Inaugural A*STAR-NHMRC Joint Symposium facilitates research collaborations to combat infectious diseases through integrative technology approaches across Singapore and Australia
1. Distinguished scientists from Singapore and Australia will present recent groundbreaking findings in infectious diseases and the use of new technology approaches to combat them at the inaugural A*STAR-NHMRC joint symposium over two days (27to 28 Feb). Jointly organized by A*STAR and Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), this inaugural symposium will facilitate scientific exchange and provide a platform to forge research collaborations between scientists from both nations. This is a step towards further developing and strengthening our regional systems and capacity to detect, respond to and prepare for disease outbreaks and public health events.
2. The symposium will focus on influenza and tuberculosis, two major infectious diseases that affect the Asia-Pacific region with great societal impact. The 2009 flu pandemic in Asia, part of an epidemic in 2009 of a new strain of influenza A virus subtype H1N1, afflicted at least 394,133 people in Asia with 2,137 confirmed deaths. Asia has historically been the epicenter for the emergence of new influenza viruses, and experts believe that the next pandemic will begin there. Tuberculosis (TB) remains a major public health problem in the region because of its high morbidity and mortality rates. Strains of TB resistant to all major anti-TB drugs have also emerged. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the largest number of new TB cases in 2008 occurred in the South-East Asia Region, which accounted for 35% of incident cases globally.
3. Hosted by the Agency of Science Technology and Research (A*STAR), this joint symposium is one of the outcomes of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between A*STAR and Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in September 2011. Following the symposium, NHMRC and A*STAR will identify key issues and develop a $3.5 million (AUD) joint grant call for research.
4. Said A*STAR Chairman, Mr Lim Chuan Poh, "Despite advances in science and medicine, infectious diseases continue to emerge at a rapid pace which can lead to significant social and economic impact. Global pandemic is a serious security threat that transcends borders and we need to adopt a transnational outlook and approach to be best prepared. This symposium brings together the top minds from Singapore and Australia to examine this threat to human health. We are confident that the collaborations forged and discoveries made in our partnership with NHMRC will translate to greater medical discoveries and innovations that will bring benefit not only to Australia and Singapore, but the wider region."
5. Prof Warwick Anderson, CEO of Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council said, “The symposium is an opportunity to forge research and development collaborationsamongst Australian and Singapore-based researchers. New technological approaches such as genomics, the sequencing and analysis of DNA and bioinformatics, the application of computing power to medical research are priority areas. By sharing resources and knowledge, we can minimise research duplication and improve delivery of bench to bedside solutions for patients.”
6. Some highlights of the symposium include lectures by distinguished Singaporean and Australian scientists:
- Dr Martin Lloyd Hibberd, Associate Director for Infectious Diseases at Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), A*STAR, will be speaking on genomics as an enabling platform, “Whole genome sequencing of viruses and bacteria”. Dr Hibberd has a broad scientific background spanning both microbial and human determinants of infectious and inflammatory diseases. Previous posts include WHO-funded Senior Microbiologist at the UK's central Public Health Laboratories, and for seven years prior to his current appointment he was lecturer and senior lecturer in Paediatric Infectious Diseases at the Imperial College School of Medicine, one of the very top-ranking British universities.
- Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Programme Director Bioinformatics Institute (BII), A*STAR, will be speaking on the importance of bioinformatics in tracking the evolution of influenza viruses for early detection of changes towards severity,“Bioinformatics as enabling technology for influenza surveillance”. Dr Maurer-Stroh directs a cross-division programme for Human Infectious Diseases at BII that builds upon the expertise of several groups from different backgrounds. Following the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, his group has been collaborating with hospitals and health authorities in Singapore, Mexico, Brazil and the WHO CC in Australia, to characterize circulating strains and possible effects of new mutations.
- Dr Ian Barr, Deputy Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL), will be speaking on influenza biology, “Influenza surveillance and how it impacts on current vaccine development and drug resistance awareness”. One of only five centers in the world, the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza plays an active role in regional influenza surveillance and performs detailed analysis of influenza viruses including gene sequencing, antigenic analysis and anti-viral resistance testing.
- Professor Ross Coppel, Director of the Victorian Bioinformatics Consortium, will be speaking on tuberculosis biology, “Bioinformatics and Functional "Omics" to inform studies of cell wall synthesis of Mycobacteria”. He is a medicalgraduate and an internationally recognized scientist in the fields of tropical infectiousdiseases and primary biliary cirrhosis. Professor Coppel is a recipient of the Glaxo Awardfor Advanced Research in Infectious Diseases and was a Howard Hughes Medical InstituteInternational Fellow.
(A full list of the speakers can be found in Annex B)
Information on the A*STAR- Australian NHMRC Joint Symposium 2012 is available here:
AGENCY FOR SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH (A*STAR)
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Ms Ong Siok Ming
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Agency for Science, Technology and Research
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About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation-driven Singapore. A*STAR oversees 14 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and six consortia & centres, located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis as well as their immediate vicinity.
A*STAR supports Singapore's key economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry. It also supports extramural research in the universities, and with other local and international partners.
For more information about A*STAR, please visit www.a-star.edu.sg.
About the National Health and Medical Research Council
The National Health and Medical Research Council is the Australian Government’s lead body for funding health and medical reseach. In 2010-11 the NHMRC , funded over AUD$700million of research in universities, health and medical research institutes and hospitals in Australia and through international collaborations.
The NHMRC was established in 1936 to
· Raise the standard of individual and public health throughout Australia.
· Foster medical research and training and public health research and training.
· Foster consideration of ethical issues relating to health.
For more information on NHMRC, please visit www.nhmrc.gov.au
 2009 Flu Pandemic in Asia, Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, McBrewster John
 Pacific Health Summit, Emerging Infections /Pandemics Workgroup, An Avian Flu Pandemic: What would it mean, and what can we do? June 2006