Chronic hepatitis B (CHB) affects about 400 million people worldwide, and is one of the major causes of liver mortality. Through his ground-breaking studies Professor Lai has brought to light new knowledge about the progress of the disease and new forms of treatment.
Since 1971 he has served in the Department of Medicine, which includes the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology – the leading referral centre for related conditions in Hong Kong, and which frequently receives consultations from overseas centres. It operates an inpatient service at Queen Mary Hospital, and provides consultation services to all the hospital’s departments.
A year before joining the Department Professor Lai graduated from HKU as the top student of his year in the medical school. He has been Professor of Medicine and Hepatology (personal chair) since 2003. A renowned expert on CHB, he is among the world’s top 1 percent of scientists.
He pioneered the first trial of interferon in children with CHB, and later spearheaded a series of trials of a new class of antiviral agents, the nucleoside analogues, including lamivudine (licensed in 1998), entecavir (licensed in 2006), and telbivudine (licensed in 2007). All three studies have been published in the New England Journal of Medicine with Professor Lai as the lead author. Entecavir is now regarded as one of the three first-line agents for the treatment of CHB, and has been shown to decrease liver fibrosis with long-term treatment.
Professor Lai was also among the first to conduct vaccination trials to prevent hepatitis B infection. This project has resulted in the longest vaccine follow-up data, showing that the vaccine is still effective after 22 years without booster doses.
Professor Lai has been invited to give many high-profile lectures, among them the prestigious Leon Schiff State-of-the-Art Lecture of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in 2005. He is the co-editor of two editions of the book “The Hepatitis B Virus”, and has published more than 400 refereed papers and reviews. His most cited paper, “A one-year trial of lamivudine for chronic hepatitis B” has been citied more than 1,180 times.
A committed teacher, Professor Lai has been recognised with the Best Teacher Award and Best Supervisor Award for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. As an academic leader, he was Chairman of the HKU/QMH Institutional Review Board from 1998 to 2009. Among his other services to the University, he is chairman of the Promotion and Tenure Panel of the Faculty of Engineering and a member of the University Selection and Promotion Committee.