Meeting Neurons, and Thereafter - Nancy Ip (I)
Professor Nancy IP is an internationally-acclaimed top neuroscientist, spending decades in researches related to the communication among neurons. She has made important contributions to our understanding of brain development and plasticity, as well as the causes of related neurological disorders. Professor Ip is highly respected for her outstanding discoveries in the biology of neurotrophic factors - proteins that promote the survival, development and maintenance of neurons. In particular, she has made extensive and dedicated enquiries into neu-rodegenerative diseases.
Globally, the world is approaching an aging society, and Alzheimer’s disease has become a universal challenge. Professor Ip, in association with her team, dis-covered that the abnormal activation of a protein named EphA4 in neurons re-duces the communicative function among neurons, causing memory loss, as in Alzheimer’s. The team then identified a natural compound named rhynchophyl-line, found in the traditional Chinese medicine Uncaria rhynchophylla (Miq.) Jacks, which could inhibit the abnormal activation of EphA4. In lab experiments, they found that when mice with dementia were given rhynchophylline, there was a marked improvement in their memory. This was a breakthrough in medical treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Nancy Ip was born and educated in Hong Kong, before moving on for her university studies in biology and chemistry in the U.S. She acquired her Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School, which inspired her to take up a career in scientific research.
Professor Ip was invited to take up a teaching and research position at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in 1993, shortly after the University was established. She founded a research lab and grew her team from three to several dozens. Her Ip Lab is now a State Key Laboratory of China. It is Professor Ip’s belief that scientific research should not be a solitary pursuit, but rather a collaboration among talents and labs across disciplines. Over the years, she has built up a global network of research and scientific experts, drawing on the strengths and specialisation of different labs, such that information can be shared to enable better research results.
It is estimated that globally there will be over 100 million Alzheimer’s patients by 2050, with nine million in China alone. Professor Ip has been actively involved in the “China Brain Project” to research into effective means of making early diag-nosis of neurodegenerative diseases and racial differences as a factor in Alz-heimer’s. She has been collaborating with medical doctors and scholars in Main-land China for studies of Alzheimer’s among Chinese, making use of big data in blood samples and related statistics. Such effort has also been instrumental in nurturing new talents in clinical and research-based medicine.
The remarkable contributions of Professor Nancy Ip in neuroscience have been widely recognised. In 2004, she was awarded the L’OREAL-UNESCO for Wom-en in Science Award. In 2011, she was awarded the Honors for Women Innova-tors at the APEC Women and Economy Summit, and Chevalier de l'Ordre Na-tional du Merite, France. She is a recipient of the National Natural Science Award, China’s highest honour in the natural sciences. She was elected Acade-mician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2001, being then the youngest Academician on record. In 2015, she was elected a Foreign Member of the US National Academy of Sciences,
and in 2016 a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Ip is also a member of the Global Agenda Council on Brain Research of the World Economic Forum.
Scientific research is a lifelong commitment to Professor Ip, upholding the spirit of objectivity, dedication, persistence, integrity and impregnability as a scientist. She hopes to emulate Dr. Levi-Montalcini, the Italian Nobel laureate and neurobiologist, and dedicate her entire life to scientific research, working for her ideal.
Professor Ip is a scientist, educator and university administrator, as Vice-President of Research and Graduate Studies of the HKUST. She hopes to share her research legacy with students and fellow researchers, nurturing the next generation of scientists par excellence.
Director: Leslie Ng