Professor Ching-Lung Lai's Stories

Professor Ching-Lung Lai


Revolutionize Hepatitis B Treatment by Challenging the Old Ways through Evidence-based Medicine

Professor Ching-Lung Lai, Chair Professor in Hepatology of Department of Medicine of The University of Hong Kong started his primary school study early at the age of three and was admitted to the HKU Medical Faculty at 16, and then chose hepatology as his lifetime specialty. Devoting himself to medical education and research for 46 years, he gained wide professional recognition as a world-leading hepatologist. At the age of 70 now, he is still full of energy and sees new patients in the public sector personally. “Doctors are respected because they have the passion for treating patients,” Professor Lai said.

Teaching and Research are the Basis for Medical Advancement

Professor Lai is fascinated by the work of teaching and research, and believes they are mutually beneficial. “Teaching in the medical school must make use of the information collected through research, and this is the only way to bring new evidence-based knowledge to students.” Professor Lai is always at the forefront of global medical research on hepatitis B drugs. With the help of The University of Hong Kong Clinical Trials Centre (HKU-CTC), he undertook many clinical trials on new hepatitis treatments. “I am glad to take part in novel drug trials. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) sent its delegates to Hong Kong in 1998 for the first time to observe the findings of my clinical trial on lamivudine.”

New Medications Revolutionized Hepatitis B Treatment

Currently, chronic hepatitis B is affecting 257 million people around the world, of which around 75% are Chinese. Professor Lai studied three nucleotide analogues – lamivudine, entecavir and telbivudine – in clinical trials through HKU-CTC’s coordination and gained significant results. Thereafter, better treatment options became available and the severe side effects of interferon could be avoided. “These new drugs have far fewer side effects. They also help reduce the risk of liver cancer and even reverse cirrhosis. I am the lead investigator who tested entecavir on hepatitis B patients for the first time in the world. When the earlier drug, lamivudine, was put on market, I was so excited as I knew that would revolutionize hepatitis B treatment worldwide.”

Contributing to Scientific Research with Empathy

Professor Lai always encourages medical students to take part in clinical studies. “As doctors, we have to gain new knowledge through research, and apply such knowledge in clinical practice. Good doctors should also have empathy to patients at all times.” In addition to contributing extra time, another crux to the success of clinical studies is to obtain volunteers’ consent. Professor Lai explained that all drugs and vaccines tested in clinical trials must have already passed professional evaluations and animal studies so as to minimize the risk. “We need volunteers to support research, and at the same time we also have the responsibility to protect their safety and rights. So we will explain all the potential risks and side effects to the volunteers, and they will be closely monitored throughout the study.” He thanked HKU-CTC for helping him to communicate with various specialists, monitor research progress and share the administration and logistical work, and hence he could focus on the research part. “No new drugs can come to the market without going through clinical trials – the final stage of drug development. Without clinical research, medical advancement will be hindered.”

With his professionalism, innovation and positive character, Professor Lai has become a top specialist in his field of hepatology. Many people describe him as a gifted talent and overlook the efforts he made. In fact the biggest motivation behind all these hard work is neither fame nor money, but the core value of “giving” which he always upholds – and the terms “giving” is indeed a perfect description of Professor Lai.