Innovation Wing Two

Biofilm Inhibition in Oral Pathogens by Nanodiamonds​

Complex microbial communities, e.g., biofilms residing in our oral cavity, have recognized clinical significance, as they are typically the main cause for infections. Diamond nanoparticles, namely, nanodiamonds (NDs) have been demonstrated to work as an effective antibacterial agent against planktonic cells (free-floating state) due to their many promising physico-chemical properties. However, little is known about the behaviors of NDs against biofilms (sessile state).

Tech Talk – Sensing and Data Processing for Human Balancing Evaluation

Balance ability is human’s basic physiological ability that ensures stable standing and walking. Falls are major threats to the health and independent living of the elderly. 10% of the falls in the elderly are associated with fractures, and some can lead to head injuries and deaths. A highly effective human balance sensor is invented, which can capture high-resolution dynamic pressure distribution under human feet. The variation of the pressure distribution can be used to solve the dynamics of human motion while standing on the balance sensor. The algorithms using artificial intelligence are developed to assess the risk of falling for elderly people to help them prevent falls. Furthermore, this sensor can be used to measure balance ability of athletes, such as weightlifting, golf and gymnastics. In medical diagnosis, balance ability tests can provide important information for diagnostics of neural disease. It can also be used to identify drunk driving.

Tech Talk – Short-range exposure during close contact and the environmental interaction

Debate and scientific inquiries regarding airborne transmission of respiratory infections such as COVID-19 and influenza continue. Exposure was investigated under a face-to-face scenario, where people experience the highest risk of respiratory infection. The short-range airborne route was found to dominate exposure during close contact. Based on the fact that most of the outbreaks occurred in indoor environments, we built the link between long-range airborne transmission and short-range airborne route. Results suggest that effective environmental prevention strategies for respiratory infections require appropriate increases in the ventilation rate while maintaining a sufficiently low occupancy.

Tech Talk – Cold-formed Stainless Steel Structures under Concentrated Bearing Loads

The application of stainless steel (SS) as an alternative construction material has been developing in the last decade. SS construction has an outstanding structural performance, excellent corrosion resistance, and long-term durability. Moreover, the SS construction has a relatively low maintenance cost with possibility of a longer occupancy period, and thus it promotes sustainability in the construction industry. In combination with the cold-forming technique during the fabrication process, SS structures offer additional strength and a faster construction speed. However, the available international design standards for cold-formed stainless steel (CFSS) structures have not been developed thoroughly, specifically on the strength prediction of a member under concentrated bearing loads, which causes a web crippling. Therefore, a series of laboratory testing and computational simulations were conducted in this research to evaluate the existing design standards. The reliability analysis shows that the available strength predictions in the design standards are not safely used even though they are conservative. This research proposes new strength predictions that are safe and conservative, and it can be used for an improvement of the design standards.

Tech Talk – Light or Fiber Touch

Precision manipulation of various liquids is essential in many fields, including DNA analysis, proteomics, cell assay and clinical diagnosis, chemical synthesis, and drug discovery. Their divisible, sticky, and sometime infectious features impose, however, great challenges on processing them, particularly when their volume is down to nano-/subnano-liter. A blood droplet from an Ebola patient can for example infect medical workers through the skin. For diagnosis, medial workers have to crash, filter, and purify a patient’s blood sample to obtain the virus’s genetic materials. This series of operations, very often in a fluidic medium, is highly infectious. Moreover, fluids stick to surfaces, which will contaminate containers and handling tools, causing potential dangers if the medical wastes are not properly managed. In this talk, Prof. Wang shall demonstrate how a simple light or fiber touch functions as a “magic” wetting-proof hand to navigate, fuse, pinch, and cleave fluids on demand, being capable of reducing and even replacing the usage of disposable plastics in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries.

Tech Talk – HINCare: Using Heterogenous Information Networks for Elderly Care Recommendation

In Hong Kong, the number of elderly citizens is estimated to rise to one third of the population, or 2.37 million, in year 2037. As they age and become more frail, the demand for formal support services (e.g., providing domestic or escort services) will increase significantly in the coming years. However, there is a severe lack of manpower to meet these needs. Some elderly-care homes reported a 70% shortage of employees. There is thus a strong need of voluntary or part-time helpers for taking care of elders.
In this talk, Prof. Cheng will introduce HINCare, a software platform that encourages mutual-help and volunteering culture in the community. HINCare uses the HIN (Heterogeneous Information Network) to recommend helpers to elders or other service recipients. The algorithms that use HINs and AI technologies for matching elders and helpers are based on our recent research results. This is the first time that HIN is used to support elderly care.
HINCare is now downloadable in Apple and Google Play Store, and has been serving more than a thousand of elders and helpers in NGOs (e.g., SKH and CSFC). The app is originally designed for elderly users, but has now expanded its services to support the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund (CIIF) and 10 NGOs engaged in teenage and family services. The system won the HKICT Award 2021, Asia Smart App Award 2020, and the HKU Faculty Knowledge Exchange Awards 2021 HKU.

Tech Talk – Smarter, smaller and softer robots for medical image-guided minimally invasive surgery

In recent years, there has been a trend towards integrating small, soft and deformable structures into surgical robot systems. Target applications include endoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided intervention, where researchers take advantage of soft and flexible robots for their inherent mechanical compliance. However, these flexible robotic systems are often controlled in an open loop or with positional feedback from 3D tracking devices. Not only the real-time feedback of flexible/soft robot configuration or morphology itself is of importance, but also the robot manipulation modelling, as well as its intelligent control, become an area of interest in the field. To this end, this talk will present various robot prototypes, which attempt to resolve unmet clinical and technical challenges for image-guided intervention or surgery, either in strong magnetic field (1.5-3T) by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner or in confined anatomical space through endoscopy. Machine intelligent approaches, and also the recent advances in continuum robot design and learning-based sensing/control will also be overviewed. These robots have to incorporate with efficient mechanical transmission, thus enabling delicate mechanical force/motion transmitted from actuators to surgical tools in a long and flexible route. The ultimate goal is to provide high-performance control of robotics instruments for safe, precise and effective surgical manipulation. The speaker will not only share his research outcome, but also various difficulties in his up-and-down research journey, from R&D in university, (pre-)clinical trials in hospital, then technology transfer for clinical applications.

Tech Talk – Wastewater-based Epidemiology: A lesson from COVID-19

Infectious diseases are one of the grand challenges to the public health today. The ability to rapidly monitor the spread of diseases in a large scale is the key for prevention, intervention and control of these diseases. Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) is based on the wastewater of a population, which means the pooled samples from thousands of people, to monitor the disease outbreaks at the community level. In the past two years, COVID-19 sewage surveillance has been applied to provide the early warning signal, to monitor the spread trend of the virus, to uncover the infected persons, and to trace the spread of different variants. In Hong Kong, the sewage surveillance technology developed by the multidisciplinary team of Civil Engineering and Public Health of the University of Hong Kong has been incorporated into the whole control strategy against COVID-19 since December 2020. Currently, the routine sewage surveillance programme of the Hong Kong Government covers more than 150 regular sampling sites in different areas, providing monitoring results for over 5 million people. Similar WBE surveillance systems have also been well-established in many countries, including USA, EU members, Australia, Singapore, etc. In the future, the wastewater surveillance systems are not only helpful in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 but also will be an essential part of the smart city to protect people’s health from known pathogens and unknown emerging new pathogens. In summary, wastewater tells us the health of a city, and we are learning how to listen to it carefully.

Tech Talk – Plastic Response of Cells: from Embryo Development to Disease Detection

Living cells need to undergo significant shape changes during processes such as cell division, migration and tissue formation. Therefore, it is commonly believed that the deformability of cells is intimately related to their capability in executing different biological duties as well as the progression of diseases. In this talk, I will discuss how irreversible deformation of cells ensures proper axial extension of embryos during their development and how the plastic response of tumor cells can be used in monitoring the progression of cancer. Specifically, I will show that the presence of active intracellular/intercellular contraction will trigger the severing and re-bundling of actin filaments in cells (leading to cellular anisotropy and plasticity), elevate the internal hydrostatic pressure of embryo and eventually drive its elongation. In particular, the gradual re-alignment of F-actins must be synchronized with the development of intracellular forces for the embryo to elongate, which is then further sustained by muscle contraction-triggered plastic deformation of cells. In addition, I will also introduce a microfluidic setup developed in our lab allowing us to impose precisely controlled cyclic deformation on cells and therefore probe their plastic characteristics. Interestingly, we found that significant plastic strain can accumulate rapidly in highly invasive cancer cell lines and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from late-stage lung cancer patients with a characteristic time of a few seconds. In comparison, very little irreversible deformation was observed in the less invasive cell lines and CTCs from early-stage lung cancer patients, highlighting the potential of using the plastic response of cells as a novel marker in future cancer prognosis and monitoring.

Soft Robotic Manipulator for Intra-operative MRI-guided Transoral Laser Microsurgery

Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging (MRI) provides compelling features for the guidance of interventional procedures, including high-contrast soft tissue imaging, detailed visualization of physiological changes, and thermometry. Laser-based tumor ablation stands to benefit greatly from MRI guidance because 3D resection margins alongside thermal distributions can be evaluated in real time to protect critical structures while ensuring adequate resection margins. However, few studies have investigated the use of projection-based lasers like those for transoral laser microsurgery, potentially because dexterous laser steering is required at the ablation site, raising substantial challenges in the confined MRI bore and its strong magnetic field. Here, we propose an MR-safe soft robotic system for MRI-guided transoral laser microsurgery. Owing to its miniature size (Ø12 × 100 mm), inherent compliance, and five degrees of freedom, the soft robot ensures zero electromagnetic interference with MRI and enables safe and dexterous operation within the confined oral and pharyngeal cavities. The laser manipulator is rapidly fabricated with hybrid soft and hard structures and is powered by microvolume (<0.004 milliter) fluid flow to enable laser steering with enhanced stiffness and lowered hysteresis. A learning-based controller accommodates the inherent nonlinear robot actuation, which was validated with laser path-following tests. Submillimeter laser steering accuracy was demonstrated with a mean error < 0.20 mm. MRI compatibility testing demonstrated zero observable image artifacts during robot operation. Ex vivo tissue ablation and a cadaveric head-and-neck trial were carried out under MRI, where we employed MR thermometry to monitor the tissue ablation margin and thermal diffusion intraoperatively.