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Mass spectrometry-based omics and imaging techniques for environmental pollution-associated human diseases and potential drug targets


Toxicological effects associated with human exposure to exogenous chemicals have drawn increasing attention. A growing number of pollutants were detected in our environment. Continuous pollutant exposure could induce various adverse effects, including the metabolic toxicity, developmental toxicity, mutagenicity, neurotoxicity and carcinogenicity. Metabolomics is capable of systematic analysis of metabolic profiles and thus offers valuable clues for diagnosis and understanding of various diseases. Metabolomics provides practical approach to monitor the pathophysiological changes associated with diseases. Mass spectrometry (MS)-based metabolomics has become an advanced technique for sensitive detection of metabolites for biomarker discovery and disease mechanism characterization. Gas chromatography (GC) and liquid chromatography (LC) coupled with MS have been employed for metabolites associated with various diseases, resulting in the discovery of disease-related biomarkers. The lipidomic signatures and the potential of lipids as biomarkers have also played significant role in biomarker identification. The perturbed metabolic pathways may be validated at the enzymatic level by using proteomics and at the function level using cell and animal models. MS imaging analysis provided the spatial information of key biomarkers in animal organs, enabling the discovery of therapeutic targets. Investigation on key cellular receptors may be performed, which will help identify the target organs responsible for the toxicity and diseases. The investigation on cellular receptor could also serve as potential target for developing related drugs by identifying drugable targets from imaging analysis by MALDI-TOF MS.   

With the best mass spectrometry facility in Hong Kong, this interdisciplinary research project will provide new insights into the metabolic mechanisms underlying pathological processes and offer potential therapeutic targets for related diseases. The project will develop and utilize MS-based omics and imaging techniques to explore the behavioral and wellbeing functioning mechanisms of complex systems including life, environment and human society, and to investigate possible drug target based on the biomarker identification from metabolomics and mass spectrometry imaging results.

Required skills

Environmental and/or bioanalytical analysis.

Principal Investigator


Dr. Cai

Prof. Zongwei Cai

Founding Kwok Yat Wai Endowed Chair of Environmental and Biological Analysis, Chair Professor,  Department of Chemistry



Dr. Li

Prof. Min Li

Associate Dean of School of Chinese Medicine
Professor, Teaching and Research Division, School of Chinese Medicine