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PolyU awarded RGC Strategic Topics Grant to address societal needs in mental healthcare

19 Jul 2023

Achievements Research and Innovation Office

Prof. Weixiong Zhang’s project has been awarded funding of over HK$37 million.

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has received funding support from the Strategic Topics Grant (STG) 2023/24 of the Research Grants Council (RGC) for a health technology project aimed at promoting a new paradigm shift with creation of an integrated solution to address urgent mental healthcare needs.

In Hong Kong, major psychiatric disorders (MPDs), such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, have a high prevalence rate of 13.3%. In addition, less than 40% of patients achieve complete symptoms control after initial treatment. Currently, the standard diagnosis criteria rely on cognitive and behavioural indicators.

The PolyU project introduces an innovative and integrated strategy that utilises artificial intelligence (AI) and genomic and biomedical technology to support diagnosis, treatment planning and understanding of disease mechanisms. The project has been funded under the STG topic of using AI to address imminent challenges in healthcare, proposing an AI-based, data-driven approach to diagnosis and personalised therapy.

Prof. Christopher CHAO, PolyU Vice President (Research and Innovation) said, “Under this new RGC funding scheme, PolyU has received the highest funding allocation among all institutions to support our scholars in conducting interdisciplinary and collaborative research in areas pertinent to the strategic needs of Hong Kong. PolyU has been working with various sectors to provide solutions to societal challenges. This major funding received from the RGC demonstrates PolyU’s experience in mental health research and its strengths in translating academic research for the benefit of the society.”

Prof. Weixiong ZHANG, Chair Professor of Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics at PolyU, leads the project “Integrated innovative artificial intelligence, and genomic and biomedical technologies in healthcare: Objective diagnosis, personalised therapy and determination the etiology of major mental disorders,” which has been awarded funding of over HK$37 million. With a strong academic and research background in interdisciplinary fields, Prof. Zhang is a professor at both the Department of Health Technology and Informatics and the Department of Computing at PolyU. He is also a Hong Kong Global STEM Professor.

The project aims to revolutionise the approach to diagnosing complex diseases like MPDS by shifting from symptom-based diagnosis to AI-based, data-driven diagnosis, disease study and personalised therapy. It builds upon Prof. Zhang’s extensive research in heuristic search, planning and optimisation, as well as his innovative techniques in AI and big data. By combining these techniques with genomics and biomedical technologies that he has been studying over the years, the project seeks to develop medical explainable AI (XAI) solutions for MPD diagnosis, etiology disease study and personalised therapy.

Prof. Zhang said, “This is a multidisciplinary project that responds to the urgent need for new technologies to improve mental healthcare in Hong Kong and beyond. The research team combines expertise from diverse fields such as computer science, biology and medicine, to address some fundamental challenges in complex disease studies.” The project will involve 20 investigators and collaborators from eight institutions in Hong Kong, the Mainland China and the United States.

The STG has been set up to support collaborative research in specific areas which can help Hong Kong overcome imminent challenges and tap fast-evolving opportunities. The maximum duration of a project is five years. The ceiling of project cost per project to be awarded by the RGC is $40 million (excluding on-costs).


Details of the funded project

Project Coordinator:

Prof. Weixiong Zhang

- Chair Professor in Bioinformatics & Integrative Genomics in the Department of Health Technology and Informatics and Department of Computing

- Hong Kong Global STEM Professor

Project Title:

Integrated Innovative Artificial Intelligence, Genomic and Biomedical Technologies in Healthcare: Objective Diagnosis, Personalised Therapy, and Determining the Etiology of Major Mental Disorders



The project proposes a paradigm shift from symptom-based diagnosis to AI-based, data-driven diagnosis and a personalised therapy approach. By integrating AI, genomics and biomedical technologies, the research team aims to create an explainable AI-enabled treatment planning system that can support reliable diagnosis and guide personalised repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy.


The research project encompasses three research focus (RF) areas:

RF-1 : Identify genetic disease biomarkers and brain activity patterns to classify MPDs into distinct categories.

RF-2 : Study the longitudinal impact of stress on diseases and their inheritance.

RF-3 : Combine the findings of previous research focus areas by applying genetic biomarkers and brain patterns from RF-1 and the knowledge of disease mechanisms obtained from RF-2, so as to guide reliable diagnosis and personalised therapy, ultimately improving mental healthcare.

* RGC provides 90% of the approved budget and the remaining 10% will be provided by coordinating university and collaborating universities.


Press Contacts

Ms Iris Lai

Manager, Research and Innovation Office

Press Contacts

Ms Annie Wong

Senior Manager, Communications and Public Affairs

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