Friday Beyond Spotlights - Dr Francis Chan: Saving the World, One Poo at a Time?

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Friday Beyond Spotlights is an informative yet light-hearted talk show airing every Friday at 8:30pm on Hong Kong International Business Channel (#76). The English language program features prominent guests who share their insights into current affairs, business, innovation and culture, as well as their ingenuity, passion and grit which forge their Lion Rock spirit. The show is hosted by businessman and philanthropist Patrick Tsang On-yip, lawyer and lawmaker Nick Chan Hiu-fung, and seasoned business maverick Herman Hu Shao-ming.

Poo samples to treat future diseases

Hosted by Nick Chan, episode 5 of Season 2 presents Professor Francis Chan Ka-leung, Dean of Faculty of Medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) since 2014. An award-winning specialist in the research of gut microbiome and digestive diseases, Prof Chan is building the largest poo bank in Hong Kong to provide useful data for the future generation of diagnostics and medicine for the world. “Our poo contains vast amounts of information and contains 99 per cent of the bodily genome. With such information, we will be able to predict your future health. And also, we know that for kids, their poo is much healthier than when we become adults. So if we are able to save their healthy stool samples, we may one day be able to use these samples to treat diseases in the future,” he said.

The future of poo medicine might even stop or reverse the aging process, added Prof Chan. “Aging is some kind of wear and tear of our genetic material in your body, which is really some kind of very interesting interaction with the environment. If we can modify our gut bacterial genomes and make the environment better, there’s always hope that we can reverse this aging process.”

He said when time goes on, with the diversity of the stool bacteria, the good bacteria will be replaced by harmful bacteria. “So we really want to save up this healthy poo so that in the future we can use this poo to put it back into their guts to restore the balance.”

Nurturing the next generation of doctors

Prof Chan said to face the global challenges, our next generation of young doctors need to have an international perspective, an innovative mindset, and a very strong sense of humanity. He is proud of his students because after graduation, some of them have been doing humanity work in different parts of the world; some have become very inspirational researchers trying to transform medical research ideas into something that can really make a difference to society; and some have taken up important positions in the Hospital Authority. “So instead of just becoming the same kind of doctor providing medical services, I very much hope that these students one day will be able to provide innovative ideas to the society and humanity to help the underprivileged people, and advocate new policies to improve our healthcare system.”

He is looking for those students who really have the compassion for the poor and sick to join the profession. “I always believe if we identify ourselves not only with powerful people, but also with those who don’t have power, then life will become more beautiful.”

Keep fighting with the spirit of Rocky Balbao

In the program, Prof Chan showed audience a framed Rocky Balbao poster as the item that has shaped him into who he is today. “I like this movie which is very inspirational to me. I very much identify myself with Rocky and that I was born in a very poor family. When I was a little boy, I didn’t have a chance to study in one of the local famous schools. Not because I was not smart enough. I had a chance, but because the school was a bit far away and my family couldn’t afford an extra HK$8 a month of transportation. So in the end, I was placed in a very small school next to the wet market.”

Prof Chan said even when he became the dean of the Faculty of Medicine about 10 years ago, his life was still full of challenges, and he faced failures again and again. “But I remember this movie. Rocky once said ‘Life is not always sunshine and rainbows’, ‘Life can be pretty nasty’, and ‘It’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward’. These are really my mottos, and therefore I fight all my life.”

He is a firm believer of “if you are not afraid of failures, one day you will be successful,” as evident in his zealous advocacy of the government colorectal cancer screening program. “When we first started this program some 20 years ago, colorectal cancer was not seen as a huge problem in Hong Kong, and few people appreciated the importance of the program. None of our applications for research grants and donations were successful. But I told myself, if this is really important, we should not give up. We persevered for 10 to 15 years with hard work and accumulation of more data, and we finally convinced the government that this is important and that this cancer is entirely preventable. Some five years ago, finally, we have this colorectal cancer screening program available for all eligible people in Hong Kong.”

“The most important thing is that you pursue your dream and you dare to dream if you believe in something, no matter how difficult it is, and no matter how hard you get hit, you just stand up and continue to move forward,” remarked Prof Chan.

To watch the video, visit Friday Everyday YouTube Channel – Friday Beyond Spotlights Season 2

Ep. 5 l Prof Francis Chan

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