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【ALUMNI INTERVIEW】 Postdoctoral Fellow Truman Cheng A Devotee of both LEGO and Medical Technology Research

Postdoctoral Fellow Truman Cheng
A Devotee of both LEGO and Medical Technology Research

Meaning “play well” in Danish, LEGO is much more than a child's toy and commands a huge following of adult fans. Truman Cheng (16/UC/Biomedical Engineering; 18/MPhil in Surgery; 21/PhD in Surgery) plays well with the plastic bricks and is fascinated by Vincent van Gogh's artworks. By accident, he blended the two to create LEGO® Ideas The Starry Night and went on to have it commercialized. With scientific research as his other passion, he collaborated with the medical team of CUHK to develop an intelligent magnetic anchored and guided endoscope for minimally invasive surgery and won an international award for the project. He admitted it is hard to establish any link between LEGO and biomedical engineering but as a creative medium, the plastic bricks not only embody art and creativity, the process of assembling them demands certain requirements of mathematical sciences to be met, much like a puzzle game. Likewise, designing medical instruments requires attention to the dimensions of tiny components. Therefore, in this sense, both endeavours call for professional expertise.

Truman likes CUHK for its environmental beauty, appealing campus culture and friendly people.

Creating LEGO® Ideas The Starry Night
As a child, Truman was introduced to LEGO by his brother. He started playing with the classic red bucket set, which contained plastic plates of different colours and since there was no instruction booklet available, he found boundless room to express his creativity. Later, his passion for the game was eclipsed by other hobbies. However, in more recent years, he has rediscovered his interest in LEGO, which now comes with even more creative play possibilities. Without buying any LEGO set, he can still experience the fun of assembling the plastic bricks by using software and sharing his designs online. He loves building cute LEGO creations and the stylish ones.

Truman realised stacking LEGO plates together at random intervals looks rather like the bold brush strokes of Van Gogh. One day, a eureka moment occurred to him. “I love ‘The Starry Night’ best among Van Gogh's works. Lego plates are 3D objects while paintings are a 2D medium. I wanted to convert the painting into a 2.5D form to accentuate the dimensionality of the scene depicted.” It took him three to four weeks to successfully complete the “The Starry Night” design and uploaded it on the official “LEGO Ideas” platform. Backed by 10,000 public votes, his creation gained approval for production as an official set, which was offered for sale in the middle of 2022. Since the platform came into being in 2008, several entries submitted to the “Lego Ideas” project have been commercialised and Truman is the first from Hong Kong to be chosen. “This platform provides for the participation from creators around the world. It doesn't matter who win and where they come from. Most importantly, whether the creations are good or if you like them is the main consideration.”

Truman's LEGO® Ideas The Starry Night comes with a heightened sense of dimensionality to make Van Gogh's colour-application technique and iconic brushstrokes come to life.

Intelligent magnetic anchored and guided endoscope gained multiple awards
Truman spent nine years of his student life at CUHK. The University rolled out the Biomedical Engineering programme in 2010, when he decided to take up the new discipline that held a special significance to him. “As I was originally interested in engineering studies, I felt that the subject would not only enable the production of certain technology products, it could also enable me to harness biomedical knowledge for designing tools to help relieve the pain and sufferings of patients or developing new instruments to aid medical surgery.” The programme's graduates are offered various career avenues but Truman stays true to his original aspirations and has chosen a career in medical technology research with CUHK. “The Prince of Wales Hospital is a teaching hospital of CUHK. The doctors there have been working closely with us and if any difficulties are encountered in the R&D process, we will be able to obtain feedback swiftly from them.”

The idea of an intelligent magnetic anchored and guided endoscope was inspired by a doctor's suggestions.

Currently, Truman is a postdoctoral fellow researcher at the CUHK Medical Robotics Centre. In recent years, he has been working alongside a CUHK medical team—including Professor Zeng Li, Associate Professor from the Department of Surgery; Prof. Calvin Ng Sze-hang, Professor from the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Department of Surgery; Prof. Philip Chiu Wai-yan, Director of Chow Yuk Ho Technology Centre for Innovative Medicine; and Prof. Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, Emeritus Professor of CUHK—on researching and developing an intelligent magnetic anchored and guided endoscope for minimally invasive surgery. Including two parts, the invention features an internal unit where a compact magnetic endoscope “sticks” inside patients and rotates or slides to change camera view. The external unit is a robot arm capable of steering a magnet to drive the endoscope to automatically follow the AI-detected target inside patients. This invention needs no incision port and allows for a smoother surgical procedure by minimizing instrument fencing. This invention won the Gold Award at EMedic Global 2019 and Bronze Award at the International Exhibition of Inventions Geneva 2021. Truman pointed out that the medical instrument takes an average of five to 10 years to develop. Hopefully, the intelligent magnetic anchored and guided endoscope will be due for clinical application in the next two to three years, thereby lessening the burden of surgeons.

Truman (first right) works with a CUHK team diligently to improve the intelligent magnetic anchored and guided endoscope's functions and looks forward to its clinical application.

"CU Alumni Magazine" Video Interview: (Chinese only)

Published on "CU Alumni Magazine" Issue 112 by Alumni Affairs Office 2022

Read online: CU Alumni Magazine Issue No. 112 (Chinese Version Only)
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