HKBU students’ design of cancer cell therapeutic detector wins Silver Project award at biomolecular design competition

20 November 2014


Seven students from HKBU designed and fabricated a DNA origami agent that is capable of diagnosis, drug delivery and monitoring of therapeutic response, revealing a promising potential to develop personalised medicine to treat cancer based on structural DNA nanotechnology. The design won a Silver Project award at the 2014 International Bio-molecular Design Competition (BIOMOD 2014) in the US held from 1 to 2 November. The HKBU team is the only winning team from Hong Kong among 30 competing teams from around the world this year.

The team’s experiment showed that DNA origami can carry conjugated components, namely graphene quantum dot (a fluorescent imaging agent), chlorambucil (an anticancer drug) and folic acid (a common targeting agent for cancer cells) to tumor cells they are programmed to target, without imposing significant harm to healthy cells nearby. The results reveal a potential targeted therapy for cancer.

The students are Chan Hei-lok (Applied Biology, Year 3), Fu Danyang (Chemistry, Year 3), Ip Cheuk-long (Chinese Medicine and Biomedical Science, Year 4), Cheng Ka-lok (Applied Biology, Year 3), Chiang Yiu-chun (Applied Biology, Year 3), Shang Wenbin (Chinese Medicine and Biomedical Science, Year 4) and Chung Yan-lung (Applied Biology, Year 3). 

Team leader Chan Hei-lok said: “This is an unforgettable experience. We had to utilise our knowledge, creativity and communication skills to explore potential applications of novel structural DNA nanotechnology. As we started our project during the summer, we struggled with the design process and the determination of functional requirements.” He thanked the team supervisors and advisors who inspired them and provided support throughout the summer months. 

They elaborated on their project idea through a creative script. The team’s cancer cell therapeutic detector which delivers cancer-fighting drugs directly to tumor cells using a fluorescent bio-imaging agent shares similar characteristics with comic book superhero Iron Man. Chan Hei-lok said: “It is rewarding for us to explain complicated ideas in an interesting way through the use of drama. We received a very positive response from the audience during our presentation.”

Team members Ip Cheuk-long and Shang Wenbin believe that every student is able to master only a small part of science due to the breadth of the subject. By collaborating with people from different specialties and tapping into each other’s expertise, they successfully carried out a project that was feasible, functional and applicable.

Details on the HKBU team’s project can be found at:


(Third from left) Fu Danyang, Ip Cheuk-long, Cheng Ka-lok, Chiang Yiu-chun, Shang Wenbin, Chung Yan-lung and Chan Hei-lok explain how the therapeutic detector works on cancer cells through the use of drama