UM Research Enhances People’s Lives

English Text: Davis Ip │ Photo: Jack Ho, Ella Cheong

The University of Macau (UM) tackles the many challenges facing humanity with pioneering research. With results which are high in academic impact, in recent years UM researchers have delivered practical solutions to improve human health and address myriad other aspects of our lives.

UM places an emphasis on research in the fields of precision medicine, advanced materials, brain science, and artificial intelligence.

In terms of citation frequency, UM is ranked in the top one per cent of global universities in five Essential Science Indicators (ESI) subjects, namely Clinical Medicine, Engineering, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Computer Science, and Social Sciences, General. According to the ISI Web of Science, the number of high-quality journal articles published by UM staff and students soared from around 100 in 2009 to over 1,000 so far this year. Having gained international recognition, UM’s leaders believe that the ability to solve real-world problems is yet another vital measure for the impact of research, a conviction reflected in the following breakthroughs.

An eco-friendly model antibiotic developed by UM researchers, which will not lead to antibiotic resistance when discharged into the environment.

Eco-friendly Antibiotic

Antibiotics have saved countless lives over the past century, but their mishandling or overuse, including the careless disposal of antibiotics from pharmaceuticals or hospitals, has spurred the process in which bacteria become antibiotic-resistant, making infections harder to treat. To address this problem, UM researchers developed an eco-friendly model antibiotic which, as long as it has not been activated, does not lead to antibiotic resistance when discharged into the natural environment. This research was jointly undertaken by research teams led by Wang Ruibing, assistant professor in the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences (ICMS), and Zheng Jun, assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS). Their paper was published in Chemical Communications.

Phone-to-phone Charging

We might have all thought about the possibility of charging our phone with someone else’s, especially when it is running out of power. UM scientists designed a new microelectronics chip allowing charging between mobile devices without additional hardware. The chip achieves a 58.6 per cent battery-to-battery efficiency, a breakthrough in wireless charging. This invention can be applied in the production of consumer electronics and industrial fields while turbocharging the creation of Internet of Things ecosystems. The members of the team which developed this technology, consisting of Post-doctoral Fellow Huang Mo, Assistant Professor Lu Yan, Visiting Professor U Seng Pan, and Chair Professor Rui Martins, are applying for a patent in the United States. Their paper was presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 65th International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in San Francisco, where the team received the 2017 Takuo Sugano Award for Outstanding Far-East Paper.

A new microelectronics chip designed by UM researchers, which can turn mobile phones into chargers.

Next-generation LED Lighting

Since its first application in 2009, perovskite solar cell has drawn great attention and achieved remarkable progress in terms of power conversion efficiency. Meanwhile, some scientists have explored the potentials of perovskite in the opposite direction – creating an energy-efficient and low-cost lighting source with perovskite. However, the slow bimolecular recombination that drives three-dimensional lead-halide perovskites’ outstanding photovoltaic performance is a bottleneck in enhancing the luminous efficiency of perovskite lighting. In this regard, scientists from UM and two partner universities discovered that this limitation can be overcome by tailoring the dimensional structure of perovskites, laying a theoretical foundation for the production of high-performance perovskite light emitting diode (LED). The research project was led by Xing Guichuan, assistant professor in the Institute of Applied Physics and Materials Engineering; Prof Huang Wei, president of Nanjing Tech University; and Prof Sum Tze Chien from Nanyang Technological University. The related finding has been published in Nature Communications. Prof Xing is one of the initiators of the research in the application of this new type of perovskites.

Scientists from UM and two partner universities discovered that this limitation can be overcome by tailoring the dimensional structure of perovskites, laying a theoretical foundation for the production of high-performance perovskite light emitting diode (LED).

Depression Treatment Gap Discovered

More than 300 million people around the world suffer from depression, but Macao has long lacked a population representative study of current depression among adults. This research gap was eventually filled by Brian Hall, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and his Global and Community Mental Health Research Group. The group found that 8 per cent of Chinese adults in Macao are likely to be depressed, and the prevalence of depression in the city is higher than that in mainland China and Hong Kong. According to the study, depression is most prevalent among women across the life course, middle-aged men, and seniors at age 65 or over. The study highlighted a treatment gap in Macao – there are many more people who need high-quality psychological treatment than the number of professionals who deliver these treatments. Published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, this epidemiological study is the first step to establishing whether mental health should be a public health priority in Macao.

Many UM scholars and students have received prizes at the Macao Science and Technology Awards. (Source: Government Information Bureau)

New Target for Cancer Immunotherapy

Cancer is difficult to cure partly because tumours and surrounding cells create a tumour microenvironment, a no-fly zone where tumours can hide from the immune system. This microenvironment includes highly immunosuppressive regulatory T lymphocytes (Treg cells). Many scientists had believed that TNF (tumour necrosis factor) receptor type II (TNFR2) downregulated Treg function, until a recent UM research project overturned this assumption and suggested a new direction for immunology. This discovery was jointly made by Chen Xin, professor in ICMS and Dr Joost J Oppenheim from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. Their research shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, TNFR2 acts in concert with TNF to activate the most immunosuppressive type of Tregs to promote tumour growth. They also found that targeting TNFR2 can enhance anti-tumour immune responses and kill cancer cells. The study was published earlier this year as an Editor’s Choice research paper with a commentary in Science Signaling, part of the Science family of journals, and featured in life science magazine The Scientist.