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Faces of A*STAR

Changing Lives, One Invention at a Time

A*STAR Dr Chin Sau Yin

Dr Chin Sau Yin

National Engineers Day is back for the ninth year, an annual festival that highlights significant advancements across different fields. Find out how biomedical engineer Chin Sau Yin aims to make a life-changing discovery.

When others see a problem, Dr Chin Sau Yin sees an opportunity – an opening to create. Like the time her dog hurt itself. She did not want it to limp around, so she built it a wheelchair. Unfortunately, her dog, a six-year-old Corgi, was not pleased and wriggled itself out of the contraption.

Dr Chin and her beloved Corgi.

Dr Chin and her beloved Corgi.

But that’s science, not all inventions succeed. It does not faze the 34-year-old. During her graduate school days at Columbia University in the United States, the A*STAR scholar led the team that developed a drug-delivery micromachine – made of hydrogel – that can be implanted under the skin and controlled using an external magnet.

The final design of the device, modelled after the Geneva drive – the gear mechanism used in watches to make seconds tick – only came about after multiple failed designs.

"I made several versions, some from scratch. Then one day, a junior looked at one of my designs and said, 'hey that looks like the Geneva drive', and that’s how the final design came about," she recalled with laugh.

The result is a 3D-printed micromachine that has no batteries or wires. It is actuated by an external magnet to the precisely release the dose of drug that should be administered. In the future, it could be used to administer localised, low-doses of chemotherapy to treat cancer.

Dr Chin's 3D-printed drug-delivery micromachine.

Dr Chin's 3D-printed drug-delivery micromachine.

"As the drug is delivered locally, and not through the blood circulation, it can be given at lower dosages, which reduces the potential of side-effects," added Dr Chin, whose paper on the research was published in international scientific journal Science Robotics last year.

Since returning to Singapore as a research fellow at A*STAR’s Molecular Engineering Laboratory, she has been studying how the device can be used for other purposes. This includes using it to culture cells in the laboratory.

Her work is her dream. From young, she always aspired to do ground-breaking research. Though she briefly considered studying medicine, she chose biomedical engineering as she felt she could make a significant impact on healthcare with just one discovery.

While she admits it sounds idealistic now, she is still gunning for that life-changing invention.

With that goal in mind, she has been participating in more "extra-curricular activities" to expand her horizons. This includes being president of non-profit organisation Biotech Connection Singapore, which promotes entrepreneurship in life sciences.

The organisation holds talks and networking sessions, bringing scientists, government officials and venture capitalists together, as well as provides consulting services.

She believes that benchwork is insufficient to bring technology to actual application. Good science, she said, does not automatically translate to a good invention.

"You can’t just hide in your lab. You need to network, meet people, understand the business of science, and market your work to others," she said. "If not, your work will never progress."

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