Published on 27 Jan 2023

On the shoulders of pioneers: Assoc Prof Sunny Wong

Assoc Prof Sunny Wong from Lee Kong Chian's School of Medicine investigates the link between gut microorganisms and colorectal cancer.

In this 30th anniversary issue, Pushing Frontiers talks to four NTU researchers who are pushing the frontiers of their respective fields. From devising sustainable ways of storing energy to understanding how gut microorganisms affect disease development, their research promises to impact societies and generations to come.

Assoc Prof Sunny Wong's profile photo

For Assoc Prof Sunny Wong, “listening to your gut” takes on a literal meaning. “I am interested in how microorganisms living in the gut, also known as the gut microbiome, influence the development of digestive and metabolic diseases,” says the clinician-scientist, who joined NTU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in 2021.

Assoc Prof Wong is the programme director of Microbiome Medicine, a research programme at the medical school that focuses on understanding how interactions between gut microbes and their host contribute to health and diseases.

An expert in investigating the connection between gut microbes and digestive diseases, Assoc Prof Wong has demonstrated that the microbiome from colorectal cancer patients could be cancer-promoting, unveiling a critical role of the microbes in the disease.

Applying his research in the clinic, Assoc Prof Wong is also interested in identifying microbial biomarkers for the early diagnosis of digestive tract cancers. He has shown that gut bacteria associated with colorectal tumours may be used as markers of the disease, which may improve the sensitivity of colorectal cancer screening tests.

In his appointment at NTU, Assoc Prof Wong is now embarking on interdisciplinary projects that aim to resolve several critical bottlenecks in microbiome medicine, such as how different foods affect the microbiome and metabolism, as well as develop novel approaches to regulate the microbiota in the gut.

Assoc Prof Wong has won several awards for his contributions to the field of gut microbiology, including the Asian Pacific Digestive Week-Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology Foundation Emerging Leaders Lectureship (2021), the Hong Kong College of Physicians Sir David Todd Lectureship (2020), the Shenzhen Science, Technology and Innovation Commission Project Award (2016), and the Croucher Foundation Award (2013). He has also published over 160 peer-reviewed articles.

“My training as a physician and scientist has allowed me to understand the interactions between the gut microbiome and the host in detail, and at the same time, given me the chance to keep pace with advanced medical developments. This enables me to translate my research findings into improved outcomes for patients, which is my ultimate aim,” he says.

The article appeared first in NTU's research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #20, June 2022).