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Project Led by Prof LI Xiang-dong Awarded Theme-based Research Scheme 2022/23

14 Jul 2022

Awards and Achievements

Project Led by Prof LI Xiang-dong Awarded Theme-based Research Scheme 2022/23

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been striving to propose advanced technologies and conduct research for sustainable development. Led by Prof Xiang-dong Li, Dean of Faculty of Construction and Environment, Director of Research Institute for Sustainable Urban Development, Chair Professor of Environmental Science and Technology, the research project titled “Unravelling the Black Box between Air Pollution and Public Health for Transformative Air Quality Management’’, is supported by the Research Grants Council (RGC) for the Theme-based Research Scheme 2022/23 (Twelfth Round). The longstanding impact goal of this project is to provide policymakers, organisations, and practitioners with more effective and targeted control measures to mitigate the health effects/burden of air PM2.5 pollution.

Air pollution is the greatest environmental health risk factor for premature deaths worldwide; fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is one of the biggest concerns among air pollutants. However, identifying the toxic components and their associated sources responsible for PM2.5 health effects represents a major scientific challenge prior to policymaking. The recent advances in environmental toxicology and molecular epidemiology provide opportunities for solving the long-standing puzzle. Supported by an existing PM2.5 global monitoring network, the research team will select multiple cities representative of distinct natural and socioeconomic conditions in the study.

The project is expected to generate solid evidence of key PM2.5 toxic components and emission sources that contribute to the acute toxicity of PM2.5, particularly in the exacerbation of two index diseases of the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and ischemic heart disease (IHD). Furthermore, the team will evaluate the benefits vs costs of their proposed strategy of targeting the sources of PM2.5 toxic constituents against the conventional approach targeting total mass concentrations. Effective, practical, and economical approaches to managing air quality and public health will be recommended through this project. For example, the completion of the current project may lead to 1) a revision of the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) algorithm and the associated 'Health Advice' and 2) a review and updates of the Air Quality Objectives (AQO) in Hong Kong. 

Prof Li remarked, “With several team members serving as advisors for the WHO, we will organize regular workshops to discuss important health issues with all potential stakeholders in expert groups. As more lines of evidence emerge, the findings will be conveyed to other national and international bodies to influence future policy formulations on air quality in different parts of the world. The major focus of the current project is on the acute effects of PM2.5. Still, our integrated approaches established here are expected to affect studies on the chronic effects of PM2.5and the regulation of PM2.5in terms of its long-term effects, including lung cancer and neurodegeneration.”

By considering different carbon emission reduction scenarios toward the goal of carbon neutrality, the outcomes of the study will also contribute to health co-benefits from air pollution and climate change mitigation. The experiences of Hong Kong and the GBA may serve as a case model for global reference. With the mission to meet the goals of sustainable development and global health, this project will build a state‐of‐the‐art research platform and provide high-quality training to next-generation graduate students and early career researchers for the future development of environmental health research and education.

The Research Grants Council announced the funding results of the Theme-based Research Scheme (TRS) 2022/23. Eight outstanding research proposals were awarded a total funding of over $306 million, of which $270 million will be provided by the RGC and around $36 million matched by the universities concerned.


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