For any world-class research hub, creating advanced research platforms, gathering top talent, and driving discovery are key to staying at the forefront of science and innovation.
Established in January 2019, a provincial laboratory in Shenzhen has been fulfilling such ambitions, riding on the development of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) as a key economic zone in China.
Promoting innovation on all fronts
Jointly launched by the Shenzhen Science and Technology Innovation Commission, and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School, Shenzhen Bay Laboratory (SZBL) has become known for its basic and applied research. SZBL aims to play a vital role in supporting the growth of the biomedical industry in the GBA and China.
“Our goals are consistent with overall strategic plans of the government, including the 14th Five-Year Plan from 2021 to 2025,” said the laboratory director Qimin Zhan. “Thanks to the unwavering support from all levels, we enjoy a rapidly expanding collaboration network with other public institutions and leading businesses.”
In less than two years, the SZBL researchers have applied for five invention patents, including one PCT patent, one US patent, and three Chinese invention patents. They have also published more than 100 papers in Nature Biomedical Engineering, Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nature Communications, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and other leading journals.
In terms of its organizational setup, SZBL is guided by interdisciplinary crossover and collaboration among its 15 research institutes and centres, supporting the basic research and technology development of major diseases. From cancers, metabolic syndromes, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, infectious diseases, to rare diseases, specialized teams work on bioinformatics, biomedical engineering, and the discovery of innovative drugs.
As of September 2020, the laboratory has established 61 dedicated teams, with many young scientists, such as computational biologist, Kun Sun, attracted to the opportunities it offers.
Championing talent incubation
Right from the beginning, SZBL has gathered many top scientists, while ensuring academic freedom and an innovative atmosphere, in which Sun has been fulfilling his life dream: integrating DNA technology into routine physical examinations to enable early cancer detection.
Sun was trained in a world-class laboratory in Hong Kong. He had been engaged in bioinformatics and liquid biopsy innovations with more than 10 years experience in biomedical big data analysis. He has published more than 40 papers in renowned international journals, and participated in the application of six international patents.
However, Sun believes that SZBL could further his career fulfilment. In November 2019, he joined SZBL as one of SZBL’s first full-time distinguished researchers.
Apart from the impressive innovation in Shenzhen, with its rapid market transformation, the lure of SZBL also comes from its unrivalled resources. “There are hundreds of companies in Shenzhen that cover all fields of genetics and biomedicine, from chemical reagents to sequencing machines. Whatever material you need, you can get the best in Shenzhen”, Sun said.
Since Sun started at SZBL, he has travelled back and forth across Shenzhen and other cities, looking for partnering hospitals, recruiting volunteers, doing experiments, analysing data, and writing papers.
“We aim to accelerate cancer diagnostics through blood testing to enhance benefits for patients,” Sun said. “Our hope is to be able to work with just a small tube of blood, to inspect if there are tumours in the body by detecting ‘abnormal’ signals in DNA in the blood.”
While theoretically safer and simpler, his experiments require a large number of samples to prove that its accuracy can meet clinical requirements. He is confident of success, however, driven by SZBL’s commitment to life science informatics, biomedicine, and medical engineering research, along with Peking University’s strong medical background.
Qimin Zhan noted, “Young scientists like Sun are integral to our dedication to nurturing talent and strengthening our innovative growth.”