Citations and Speeches


171st Congregation (2005)

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science

The Public Orator, Dr Elaine Yee-lin Ho, wrote and delivered the following citation:

Chen Zhu was born into a medical family in 1953: both his parents are doctors. From early years, family culture inculcated in Chen Zhu a desire to practice medicine and to pursue medical research that could have a transformative effect on human lives. Chen Zhu was sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and never completed his formal secondary and university education. But his parents encouraged him in self-accessed study and to use what knowledge he gained to help the farmers and local people.

In 1975, he was admitted to Shangrao Medical School in Jiangxi where he completed a two-year course before beginning his graduate studies at Shanghai Second Medical University. Between 1981 and 1984, he was an intern in the Department of Medicine at the Shanghai Rui-Jin Hospital. Guided by his teachers, Chen Zhu embarked on pioneering research in his specialism, Hematology. He conducted the first studies in China to classify hemophilia A, perform carrier detection and genetic counselling of the disease.

His intelligence and dedication to his work won further recognition and support from the Chinese government who sent him to France to complete his internship at the Laboratoire Central d'Hématologie in Paris. Between 1985-1989, he pursued his Ph.D studies at the Hôpital Saint-Louis, Université Paris VII, and after the award of his degree, conducted postdoctoral research at the hospital. It was in France that he realized the transition from hematologist to molecular biologist. Returning to the Shanghai Rui-Jin Hospital in 1990, Chen Zhu was appointed Professor that same year, and in 1995, became the Director of the Shanghai Institute of Hematology. He was further honoured by his election as a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Professor Chen enjoys national and world renown for his pathbreaking work on the treatment of leukaemia. In the field of molecular immunology, he has conducted creative research on leukaemia related genes. His major contribution to medical knowledge and human good so far has been his work on leukemia therapy. Professor Chen has elucidated the molecular mechanism of a traditional Chinese medicine, pi xiang, a medicine which is essentially a poison, arsenic trioxide, on a virulent form of leukaemia. When combined with another drug, the treatment achieved a very strong therapeutic effect with high complete remission and disease-free survival rates. This new finding means that this virulent form of leukaemia has become the first hematological malignancy that could be possibly cured.

Chen Zhu's work has been described as 'beautiful' by one of his admiring colleagues in the international arena. Even to the lay person, there is something particularly moving in the harnessing of a poison as a possible cure. In William Shakespeare's memorable line, 'Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.' (Henry IV, Part I, II.iii, line 11). Professor Chen has emphasized that his achievements would not have been possible without the contribution of the staff of the Shanghai Institute of Hematology. His mission, as a team-leader on the cutting edge of contemporary medical research, is to show how a combination of Western biomedical sciences and oriental philosophy as well as medical practice could bring new benefit to cancer therapy.

Since 1998, Professor Chen has been the Director of the Chinese National Genome Centre in Shanghai. Among its work, the Centre is in partnership with scientists from five other countries in the International HapMap Project which is developing a public resource that will help researchers find genes associated with human disease and response to pharmaceuticals. The Shanghai Genome Centre and the Hong Kong University Genome Research Centre are both members of the Chinese team that has contributed to the work of the international consortium.

In 2000, Professor Chen was elected Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and he currently directs national policy on the development of biomedical sciences. Internationally, he has been honoured by many awards, including an honorary degree from the University of Genoa, Italy, the first Prix de l'Oise awarded to a foreign scientist by La Lègue Nationale contre le Cancer, and Chevalier dans l'Ordre National de La Légion d'Honneur, France. His international distinction is further evidenced in his election as Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. Mr Pro-Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to present Chen Zhu for the award of the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.