Voices @ Research: NMRC Research Training Fellowship Experience
Recipient of the 2017 National Medical Research Council (NMRC) Research Training Fellowship Award Dr Ng Kok Pin, Consultant, National Neuroscience Institute, recently completed a one year training fellowship at the McGill University Research Centre for Studies in Aging (MCSA), Montreal. Dr Ng’s main research focus is in PET imaging in neurocognitive diseases. During his training fellowship, he gained immense experience in image processing, image co-registration, image analysis, and the organization of huge datasets, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).
Breakthrough Discovery about the Human Fetal Immune System
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) scientists have debunked commonly held assumptions about a fetus’s immune system. The team discovered that the early gestation fetus already has a developed immune system as early as the second trimester, or between week 13 and 27 of pregnancy, and that it is able to respond to pathogens as well as foreign proteins (allo-antigens), and may be working independently of its mother’s. This insight into the beginnings of the human immune system opens possibilities to future immune-directed therapies, and provides better understanding of conditions linked to abnormal immune responses during pregnancy.
NCCS-US Collaboration Uncovers Major Gene Loss & A New Pathway in Liver Cancer Development
Clinician scientist-led research team from National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), in collaboration with the Cleveland Clinic, has discovered that the GATA4 gene, which contributes to normal liver development, is commonly deleted in liver cancer. This first-in-the-world finding has identified how this major gene loss results in abnormal cellular machinery and division, causing unstable cells with wide ranging negative effects, exposing the liver to significant risk of cancer development. Associate Professor Toh Han Chong, Deputy Director and Senior Consultant, NCCS, leader and co-senior author said “In the last many decades of liver cancer research, the molecular understanding of this disease has not led to many therapies which impact on patient survival. We hope that this new finding will light up a treatment path towards greater benefit and outcomes for liver cancer patients.”
Research Pursuits Underway for a Healthier Heart in Asia
A team of researchers in the SingHealth Duke-NUS Cardiovascular Sciences Academic Clinical Programme (ACP) have embarked on a research study to gain insights on how cardiac ageing affects the Asian population. Despite Asia’s rapidly ageing population, and age being a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, there has yet to be any study conducted to better understand how Asians can age healthily. This study on cardiac ageing will leverage on the data collected from the Singapore Chinese Health Study (SCHS), a population-based cohort which recruited more than 63,000 Chinese adults aged between 45 and 74 years from 1993 to 1998. Dr Angela Koh, Consultant, National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) and Principal Researcher, explains, "We are hopeful that the results of this study will shed new light on the workings of the human heart and how it ages.”
A First in Asia: Launch of Multi-Centre Lung Cancer Research Platform
The National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) have jointly launched the Asian Thoracic Oncology Research Group (ATORG), a central coordination platform for multi-centre clinical trials and translational research for thoracic malignancies in Asia. ATORG will establish a central coordination office based in Singapore to design cutting-edge clinical studies that leverage each institution’s capabilities, and conduct proof-of-concept trials relevant to the treatment of thoracic cancers in the region. Because of its late presentation and aggressive nature, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among men and second highest among women in Singapore. “ATORG will enable the conduct of next-generation clinical trials and forge new opportunities to pursue leading edge translational research, with the ultimate aim of improving health outcomes of patients in Asia.”, Dr Daniel Tan, Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist, NCCS, Chairman, Executive Committee, ATORG
More Patients Benefitting from Personalised Medicine
In July 2017, UK announced that genetic testing will be made available to all cancer patients in the next 5 years, aimed at improving treatment effectiveness. While Singapore’s Ministry of Health is drafting the various standards for the provision of clinical genetic testing services in precision medicine, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH) have all been offering genetic testing to customise medical treatment for different types of medical conditions. In KKH, children with epilepsy and nerve pain are screened for a gene pattern that is strongly associated with severe adverse reactions to a drug used to treat paediatric epilepsy and other neurological conditions. More than one-tenth of these 360 patients tested positive for the gene and were found to be unsuitable.