IAS Junior Fellow Rong Ni
Dr Rong Ni received her PhD in biochemistry from Emory University in 2010. She joined HKUST Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2012 as a Research Associate and is now a Research Assistant Professor and has been an IAS Junior Fellow since 2016. She works with Ying Chau and aspires to have her own lab one day.
Parenting three boys, Ni and her husband both pursue academic careers while striking a balance between research and family. During her husband’s time striving for a tenured position, Ni spent more time with their children. Now it is her turn to shine in research, and he has taken up more responsibility. “There are always sacrifices for both of us for the family to stay happily together. The flexibility we provide for each other is the key to success. I am very proud of what I have achieved both as a mother and as a researcher,” she says.
Ni’s research focus is on gene therapy, a way to cure diseases by sending bio-substances into the human body. With the purpose of making changes to body conditions, traditional approaches deploy either a natural virus, which is not always safe, or a non-viral polymer, which is safe but not always effective. Ni’s project has developed an artificial virus made by manipulated proteins and thereby provides “genetic cargoes” to carry in engineered bio-substances to perform desired changes in the human body.
Ni studies protein morphology, the way amino acids are patterned and organized. To deliver the desired goals, she explores the necessary conditions, under which proteins can maintain a stable structure, withstand enzymes and digestion, infect living cells and finally complete their mission by reproducing programmed actions.
Her research project has expanded over the past 5 years. This year, Ni’s project is supported by the General Research Fund (GRF) of the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Government. “This is a milestone in my career and I am very excited about the recent recognition.”