A*STAR News

Raising Singapore’s bar for world-class science and technology

Singapore – This year’s President’s Science and Technology Awards honour winners in fields like genetic studies, immunology, and nanophotonics, and their contributions towards making Singapore a world-class hub for science and technology.

The PSTA is the highest honour bestowed upon research scientists and engineers in Singapore whose work have resulted in significant scientific, technological or economic benefits for the country. They comprise the President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM), President’s Science Award (PSA), and President’s Technology Award (PTA).

The winners, picked by a distinguished panel of representatives from industry, academia, and research, received their awards from President Halimah Yacob during a ceremony at the Istana on 18 December 2020.

This year, there was one PSTM recipient: Professor Ranga Krishnan, Chairman of the National Medical Research Council (NMRC). The PSA was awarded to Professor Liu Jianjun from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and a trio from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU), consisting of Professor Nikolay Zheludev, Associate Professor Chong Yidong, and Associate Professor Zhang Baile. The PTA was awarded to Professor Dario Campana from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Young Scientist Awards were presented by Minister for Trade & Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing, alongside the PSTA.

Young Scientist Awards (YSA)

Organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by A*STAR, the Young Scientist Awards (YSA) recognise the accomplishments of researchers under 35, who have shown strong potential to be world-class experts in their chosen fields.

This year, three outstanding young individuals were recognised with the YSA. They are:

  • Dr Chew Wei Leong, A*STAR, for his work in gene editing therapy
  • Dr John Ho, NUS, for his research in developing innovative wireless healthcare technologies
  • Dr Tan Si Hui, Cargene Therapeutics, for her research on cancer and stem cells. She was formerly from A*STAR till late-2020.

Developing talent and building up Singapore’s biomedical ecosystem

The PSTM was presented to Professor Ranga Krishnan for his outstanding leadership contributions to advancing the health and biomedical sciences research and innovation sector in Singapore.

Under Professor Ranga’s leadership at the Duke-NUS Medical School, Duke-NUS established signature research programmes to address key healthcare concerns in Singapore and Asia, including cancer and emerging infectious diseases. Prof Ranga’s close attention to recruiting and nurturing outstanding research faculty members and students led to the formation of a vibrant and inter-disciplinary community of clinician scientists, engineers, biochemists, and entrepreneurs.

Professor Ranga has contributed greatly to the transformation of Singapore’s health and biomedical sciences landscape, particularly making an impact on the strengthening of translational clinical research and innovation. In 2013, Professor Ranga took up the chairmanship of Singapore’s National Medical Research Council (NMRC), a role in which he ably strengthened partnerships between health care institutions, hospitals, universities, and government agencies. His efforts have resulted in significant healthcare, education, and economic benefits for Singapore.

Improving human health through genetic studies

Professor Liu Jianjun from A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) was awarded the PSA for his outstanding contributions to genetic studies of Asian populations, which has advanced biomedical research and precision medicine, and benefited clinical practice in the prevention of diseases and adverse drug responses.

Professor Liu was part of a team that discovered the specific risk strains of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), which is most strongly associated with Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), which has a high prevalence among populations in South China and Southeast Asia. The discovery of these EBV risk strains opens up potential avenues for better preventative and treatment tools for the disease. Similarly, Professor Liu’s systematic studies of leprosy revealed an Asian-specific biomarker that is now used to identify leprosy patients who are at risk of suffering severe reactions from dapsone, one of the key drugs used for treating the disease.

As part of the initial phase of the National Precision Medicine programme in Singapore, Professor Liu carried out a pioneering study that analysed the whole genome sequence of 5,000 Singaporeans, contributing to the formation of the largest genetic bank of Asian populations. This paves the way for Asian populations to benefit from a broader range of precision medicine applications, as the genetics of Asian populations have been largely understudied in the past.

Developing a new generation of light-based technologies

Professor Nikolay Zheludev, Associate Professor Chong Yidong and Associate Professor Zhang Baile from NTU were awarded the PSA for their global leadership in, and fundamental contributions to, topological nanophotonics research which underpins the development of a new generation of light-based technologies.

They pioneered this new sub-field of photonics, which is the science of generating, harnessing, and manipulating light. The team’s research has not only produced breakthroughs in fundamental science, but also identified important technological applications in light-enabled technologies, such as lasers and telecommunication.

Topological nanophotonics has resulted in innovative materials and states of light with extraordinary properties. The team has engineered materials in which light flows around sharp corners without reflection, unlike regular light waves. The team is also developing new types of microscopy and metrology that allow imaging and the measurement of objects much smaller than previously possible.

Pushing the boundaries of transformational cancer treatments

Professor Dario Campana from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS, was awarded the PTA for his ground-breaking work in developing methods to convert immune cells into safe and effective anti-cancer therapies that have transformed the treatment of leukaemia.

Professor Campana has done ground-breaking work in transforming the treatment of leukaemia, particularly Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) which is the most common cancer in children. The highly innovative cell-based therapy involves the use of the body’s immune cells that have been altered in the lab to target and kill cancer cells.

The clinical experience at the National University Health System with children and adults treated with CAR-T cells made in Professor Campana’s laboratory is extremely encouraging and supports the potential of this technology. These results could usher in a new era in ALL treatment, one that promises to produce greater remission rates, lower toxicities and a better quality of life during and after treatment.

Editing genes to cure inherited diseases

Dr Chew Wei Leong from A*STAR’s GIS was awarded the YSA for his work in gene editing therapy. Dr Chew has developed powerful CRISPR-Cas9 technology-based approaches for disease gene correction and gene expression control in the body. His work opens up therapeutic avenues against multiple diseases, including severe inherited diseases, viral infections, blood disorders, eye diseases, and cancers.

The work of Dr Chew and his team have resulted in numerous patent applications, inventions, and intellectual property in the fields of genome engineering and biotechnology. Some of these have been licensed to multinational corporations and form the technological foundations for new local start-ups.

Enhancing medical devices using innovative wireless healthcare technologies

Assistant Professor John Ho was awarded the YSA for his research in developing innovative wireless healthcare technologies, that address important challenges in medicine and healthcare. Some examples of devices developed by Dr Ho and his collaborators include micro-implants that deliver light for targeted cancer therapy, and smart clothing for daily health monitoring purposes.

Since joining NUS in 2015, he has led a highly interdisciplinary group to develop advanced wireless powering, sensing, and communication technologies for healthcare applications. During the COVID-19 circuit breaker in 2020, he and his team pivoted their work to develop an automated system that collates blood oxygenation data of users and displays these on an easy-to-read dashboard, and which was tested in a workers' dormitory.

Driven by passion for health research from cancer’s origin to therapeutics

Dr Tan Si Hui was awarded the YSA for her research on cancer, and cancer and normal stem cells. She has identified a novel marker which can be used to isolate human gastric stem cells for the first time. This would open up new ways to study gastric cancer stem cells and their contribution to tumour growth. This research, performed at A*STAR alongside other scientists and collaborators, could potentially contribute to novel therapeutic approaches which specifically target cancer stem cells.

Beyond laboratory research, Dr Tan is also active in Singapore’s thriving biotech start-up scene. She is collaborating with a local quantum computing start-up on a proprietary AI platform for more precise cancer diagnosis. To broaden her experience in the biomedical ecosystem, Dr Tan moved from A*STAR to a local start-up, Cargene Therapeutics, earlier this year. In Cargene Therapeutics, Dr Tan leads a research team that is working on innovative liver therapies.

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For media enquiries, please contact

Mr Owen Sia
Corporate Communications
Agency for Science, Technology and Research
HP: (65) 9273 7432
Email: owen_sia@hq.a-star.edu.sg 

Enclosed

ANNEX A – List of PSTA winners
ANNEX B – Citations of PSTA winners
ANNEX C – List of YSA winners and information sheet on YSA
ANNEX D – Citations of YSA winners
ANNEX E – Fact sheet on PSTA selection committees

About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector R&D agency. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit the economy and society. As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by improving societal outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability. A*STAR plays a key role in nurturing scientific talent and leaders for the wider research community and industry. A*STAR’s R&D activities span biomedical sciences to physical sciences and engineering, with research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis. For ongoing news, visit www.a-star.edu.sg.

A*STAR is the secretariat for the annual President’s Science and Technology Awards.


ANNEX A


List of PSTA Winners

  1. President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM)

    Professor Ranga Rama Krishnan
    Chairman, National Medical Research Council
    Chief Executive Officer, Rush University System for Health

  2. President’s Science Award (PSA)

    Professor Liu Jianjun
    Deputy Executive Director, Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR
    Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS

    Team consisting of

    Professor Nikolay I. Zheludev
    Director, Centre for Disruptive Photonic Technologies, NTU
    Co-Director, The Photonics Institute, NTU
    President’s Chair in Physics, School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences and School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, NTU

    Associate Professor Chong Yidong
    Division of Physics & Applied Physics, School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences, NTU
    Associate Chair (Students), School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, NTU

    Associate Professor Zhang Baile
    Associate Professor, Centre for Disruptive Photonic Technologies & School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, NTU

  3. President’s Technology Award (PTA)

    Professor Dario Campana
    Professor and Mrs Lee Kong Chian Chair in Advanced Cellular Therapy, Department of Paediatrics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS

ANNEX B


Citations of PSTA Winners

President's Science and Technology Medal 2020

Professor Ranga Rama Krishnan
Chairman, National Medical Research Council
Chief Executive Officer, Rush University System for Health

“For his outstanding leadership contributions to advancing the health and biomedical sciences research and innovation sector in Singapore, particularly through the strengthening of academic medicine, translational and clinical research, and the promotion of technology transfer and entrepreneurship to enhance health and support economic development in Singapore”

Professor Ranga Rama Krishnan is a renowned global leader in academic medicine and healthcare. He is currently Chairman of the National Medical Research Council (NMRC), Ministry of Health (MOH) Singapore; Chairman, National Health Innovation Centre (NHIC) Singapore; and Chief Executive Officer of the Rush University System for Health (RUSH) in the United States (US). Throughout his career, he has been a passionate and effective advocate of translational clinical research, education and entrepreneurship. He has contributed greatly to the transformation of Singapore’s health and biomedical sciences sector through the formulation of novel research strategies, the development of innovative education methods, and the nurturing and recruitment of high quality talent. Professor Krishnan has had a particular impact on the strengthening of translational clinical research and innovation. These have resulted in significant health care, education and economic benefits for Singapore.

As Dean of Duke-NUS Medical School, Professor Krishnan played a critical role in laying the foundations for the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre. This was done in close partnership with SingHealth, as well as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the National University of Singapore (NUS). Under his leadership, Duke-NUS established five signature research programmes to address the key healthcare concerns of Singapore and Asia. These cover cancer and stem cell biology, neuroscience and behavioural disorders, emerging infectious diseases, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, as well as health services and systems research. Professor Krishnan was also instrumental in building outstanding centres of excellence, including the Centre for Ageing Research and Education, Centre for Computational Biology, Centre for Quantitative Medicine, Centre of Regulatory Excellence, Centre for Technology and Development, as well as the Lien Centre for Palliative Care.

Professor Krishnan paid close attention to recruiting and nurturing outstanding research faculty members and students. Together, these engineers, biochemists, physician-scientists and entrepreneurs formed a robust network to create new products, devices and companies focused on improving healthcare outcomes. This vibrant and productive community continues to play a significant role in the growth and prominence of the biomedical sector in Singapore.

As a member of the SingHealth Board, Professor Krishnan helped foster several important joint initiatives including the Academic Medicine Education Institute, and the Academic Medicine Research Institute. He also established strong links with A*STAR to transfer technologies and build new ventures based on research from A*STAR's institutes and programmes. He was Co-Chairman of the Singapore Clinical Research Institute, and built it into an effective platform and gateway for industry and public sector clinical trials.

As Chairman of NMRC, Professor Krishnan was effective in strengthening partnerships between health care institutions, hospitals, universities, the National Research Foundation (NRF) and A*STAR to promote the translation of fundamental research into beneficial applications. He is also the inaugural Chairman of NHIC Singapore, which provides expert support and funding to the clinical sector to expedite the development of healthcare innovations into market-ready products.

Professor Krishnan has made the science of learning a priority in his work. His leadership enabled NUS to build a strong research and translational programme in this area, and he has also chaired the evaluation of research proposals on science of learning for NRF.

His contributions extend well beyond Singapore. He has held, and continues to hold, important leadership positions in the areas of medicine and health care systems, including serving on the board of Community Health Systems in the US.

He has multiple patents and fostered numerous startups in the education, neuroscience, data science, technology and therapeutic spheres in Singapore and the US. His achievements have been recognised through numerous awards including the Laughlin award, Geriatric Research award, and the Mood Disorders Research award from the American College of Psychiatrists. He also serves as a member of several professional societies, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is also an elected member of the United States National Academy of Medicine.

President's Science Award 2020

Professor Liu Jianjun
Deputy Executive Director, Genome Institute of Singapore, Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore

“For his outstanding contributions to genetic studies of Asian populations, which has advanced biomedical research and precision medicine, and benefited clinical practice in the prevention of diseases and adverse drug responses”

Professor Liu Jianjun is a leading human geneticist who studies Asian populations and has advanced the understanding of diseases and treatment outcomes among Asians through his work in the field. He is currently the Deputy Executive Director at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and Professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS).

The genetic diversity of humans is not only shown in the varied physical appearances of individuals, but also in their different risk levels in developing diseases, as well as their differential responses to treatment. Genetic diversity is the result of human evolution and migration and understanding it allows us to understand our history, and our health.

In the past decade, there has been a revolution in human genetic research, ranging from single gene analysis to systematic genomic studies, leading to the discovery of over 100,000 genetic variants that are related to human diseases and health. Asian populations are often understudied and this, if not remedied, would preclude Asians from enjoying the full benefits of the genetic revolution with its promise of improving health and treatments.

By collaborating with clinician scientists and many research groups in Singapore and Asia, Professor Liu has established an internationally recognised and distinctive research programme on the genetics of Asian populations. His research has not only advanced the biological understanding of diseases that are prevalent in these populations, but he has also discovered Asian biomarkers that have been translated into clinical practice and enabled the prevention of diseases and adverse drug responses (ADRs).

For example, by carrying out systematic studies of leprosy, Professor Liu has revealed the molecular mechanism by which the human immune system regulates and defends against the mycobacteria that are responsible for this infection.

One of the key drugs used for treating leprosy is dapsone, and Professor Liu has also discovered that an Asian specific biomarker, HLA-B*1301, is the genetic determinant of Dapsone Hypersensitivity Syndrome (DHS), a deadly ADR associated with its use. This discovery has been successfully translated to the clinical setting with the implementation of HLA-B*1301 testing before dapsone is used thereby reducing the risk of DHS.

Professor Liu was part of a team that discovered the specific risk strains of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) which are most strongly associated with the development of Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), a nose cancer that is endemic to South China and Southeast Asia, but very rare in other regions. These EBV risk strains were found to be much more common in NPC endemic regions and were responsible for over 80 per cent of the overall risk for developing NPC. These EBV risk strains can thus be used as biomarkers to identify individuals with high risk for NPC, which will enable early diagnosis and improved survival rates. The discovery also opens up the possibility of preventing NPC by eliminating infection with these EBV risk strains for example, through vaccination.

Professor Liu has also carried out a pioneering study where 5,000 Singaporeans were analysed by whole genome sequencing. This study revealed the genetic architecture and evolutionary history of Asian populations, created the largest genetic bank of Asian populations and piloted technologies and local infrastructure for high-throughput genome sequencing analysis, empowering further genetic studies of Asian populations. This effort was part of the initial phase of the National Precision Medicine programme in Singapore.

Besides leading a competitive research programme on Asian genetics, Professor Liu has also contributed to building technical capabilities and infrastructure for high-throughput genomic analyses in Singapore.

Professor Liu as a leading Asian genetic studies expert has published over 400 papers, including a dozen papers in top medical and scientific journals, such as New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, and Nature Genetics. With over 32,000 citations and a H-index of 81 (Web of Science 2020), Prof Liu’s research is well-cited by the international research community. In recognition of his research excellence in the field, Professor Liu was awarded the “Chen Young Investigator Award” by the Human Genome Organization in 2011 and was named one of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds” by Thomson Reuters in 2015.

President's Science Award 2020

Team comprising:

Professor Nikolay I. Zheludev
Director, Centre for Disruptive Photonic Technologies, Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU)
Co-Director, The Photonics Institute, NTU
President’s Chair in Physics, School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences and School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering, NTU

Associate Professor Chong Yidong
Division of Physics & Applied Physics, School of Physical & Mathematical Sciences, NTU
Associate Chair (Students), School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, NTU

Associate Professor Zhang Baile
Associate Professor, Centre for Disruptive Photonic Technologies & School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, NTU

“For their global leadership in, and fundamental contributions to, topological nanophotonics research which underpins the development of a new generation of light-based technologies”

Professors Nikolay Zheludev, Yidong Chong, and Baile Zhang, are pioneers in topological nanophotonics, a new field in the science of light that has emerged in the past decade. They use the branch of mathematics known as topology to design nanophotonic devices and applications with unprecedented functionalities. Their work has led to breakthroughs in the fundamental science of light, as well as new technological applications underpinned by the topology of light.

Photonics, the science of generating, harnessing and manipulating light, is a critical enabling technology of the 21st century. It underpins numerous other areas of technology, including telecommunications, energy harvesting and conversion, lighting and displays, advanced manufacturing and metrology, security and defense, imaging, microscopy and more. Nanophotonics is a subfield of photonics that involves using nanotechnology to create devices, such as artificial designer materials or “metamaterials”, to control light at the nanoscale. Topology, on the other hand, is a branch of mathematics that deals with the properties of objects that are invariant under continuous deformations (such as bending, stretching, and shrinking), without regard to geometrical details.

Topological nanophotonics exploits the topological properties of light, which are unaffected by continuous perturbations of the system and hence are more robust than ordinary geometric features. The team has designed artificial structured materials in which light waves can flow around corners and obstacles without scattering, unlike ordinary light waves. They have also found ways to use topologically structured light in advanced optical metrology and imaging, to resolve objects that are too small for conventional optical microscopes.

The team’s contribution to the discipline include fundamental advances in understanding the role of topology in light, new topological photonic media for lasers and photonic chips with robust-in-use and tolerant-in-manufacturing features, light pulses with unique topological properties, and the use of topologically structured light for super-resolution microscopy and nano-metrology.

The team’s research is conducted at the Centre for Disruptive Photonic Technologies (CDPT) founded and directed by Professor Nikolay Zheludev. Since its formation in 2012, CDPT, a part of the Photonics Institute at Nanyang Technological University Singapore, has become one of the world’s foremost centres of nanophotonics research. Since 2016, the team has been spearheading research on the fundamentals of topological nanophotonics and currently focuses on developing technological applications of the new concepts.

The team has an exceptional scientific publication record which includes 36 papers in the Science and Nature families of journals; delivery of 23 plenaries and keynotes, and 85 talks at major international conferences. Their papers have received more than 5,000 citations a year. They have won major research awards globally, and Professor Zheludev has been awarded fellowships of the Royal Society (UK) and the National Academy of Engineering (USA).

President's Technology Award 2020

Professor Dario Campana
Professor and Mrs Lee Kong Chian Chair in Advanced Cellular Therapy, Department of Paediatrics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore

“For his groundbreaking work in developing methods to convert immune cells into safe and effective anti-cancer therapies that have transformed the treatment of leukaemia”

Professor Dario Campana is currently the Mrs Lee Kong Chian Chair in Advanced Cellular Therapy in the Department of Paediatrics at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS). In just nine years in Singapore, Prof Campana patented 16 new cell-based therapies and set up a highly innovative cell therapy programme at the National University Health System (NUHS). He is recognised for his outstanding work in transforming the treatment of leukaemia, particularly Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) which is the most common cancer in children.

The main focus of Professor Campana’s research is to use immune cells to treat cancer. Among these are the use of CAR-T cells, where the most remarkable results have been obtained in ALL. This represents a noteworthy example of translational research that has converted fundamental biology discoveries into effective therapy.

Despite the discovery of many new drugs, cancer remains the most common cause of death in Singapore. Even when treatment is effective, the side effects of such therapies can be serious. A completely new way to treat cancer is necessary. Harnessing the human body’s immune cells represents an attractive option but it was, until recently, elusive.

About 20 years ago, Professor Campana’s laboratory set out to develop a more effective and less toxic treatment for ALL using T cells, a type of white blood cell that plays an important role in the immune system. The team designed a special receptor, called the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), that could recognise a target strongly expressed in ALL. When T cells are equipped with the CAR, they latch onto leukaemic cells, kill them and propagate, mounting a powerful anti-leukaemic response. Clinical trials so far showed that blood T cells that are extracted from ALL patients, modified with the CAR and reinfused back into the patients, could cure ALL even when all other therapies had failed.

The CAR developed by Professor Campana’s team eventually became the key component of the first product of its kind approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, and is now marketed worldwide. For this discovery, Professor Campana received the 2019 Jacob and Louise Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine.

Professor Campana’s laboratory at NUS recently developed a new cell therapy for patients with T-ALL, a type of leukaemia different from the more common B-ALL form.

The clinical experience at NUHS with children and adults with either T- or B-ALL treated with CAR-T cells made in Professor Campana’s laboratory is extremely encouraging and supports the potential of this technology. These results represent the dawn of a new era in ALL treatment, one that promises to produce greater remission rates, lower toxicities and a better quality of life during and after treatment.

Besides ALL, CAR-T cells have been proven to be useful in treating lymphoma and myeloma, and may also benefit patients with other forms of cancer in the future. Possible applications of immune cell therapy in other areas of medicine, such as autoimmune diseases, solid organ transplant, infectious diseases and aging are on the horizon as well.

Many of Professor Campana’s patents have been licensed and he is the scientific founder of three biotechnology companies. He has over 350 publications, including articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Lancet, Lancet Oncology and the Journal of Clinical Investigation, and his work has been cited more than 35,000 times, with a h-index of 101 (Google Scholar 2020). He is also an elected member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and of the American Association of Physicians. In 2020, he was named Researcher of the Year by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS, and was the recipient of the NUS Research Recognition Award.

ANNEX C


List of YSA Winners and Information Sheet on YSA

The Young Scientist Awards (YSA) are organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by A*STAR. The YSA recognise the accomplishments of researchers under 35, and who have shown the potential to scale greater heights. The awards also highlight the importance of investments in the country’s scientific talent pool.

List of YSA Winners 2020

Biological & Biomedical Sciences category

Dr Chew Wei Leong
Senior Research Scientist
Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR

Dr Tan Si Hui
Associate Director, Biology
Cargene Therapeutics
(Formerly from A*STAR)

Physical, information & Engineering Sciences category

Dr John Ho
Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, NUS
Principal Investigator, Institute for Health Innovation and Technology, NUS

Young Scientist Awards Selection Committee

The judging committee for the Young Scientist Awards is chaired by Associate Professor Lim Tit Meng, Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Science Centre.

ANNEX D


Citations of YSA Winners

Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Awards 2020

Biological & Biomedical Sciences Category

Dr Chew Wei Leong
Senior Research Scientist, Genome Institute of Singapore, Agency for Science, Technology and Research

“For his work in gene editing therapy”

Dr Chew Wei Leong invents technologies to make pinpoint changes to genes. His research encompasses novel DNA and RNA-editing modalities (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats CRISPR-associated systems, also known as CRISPR-Cas1 that include Cas9, Cas12, and Cas13), gene therapy delivery vectors (adeno-associated viruses or AAVs), and synthetic biology.

Dr Chew contributed seminal works to gene editing. He pioneered disease gene correction and gene expression control with CRISPR-Cas9 in the body. These technologies open up therapeutic avenues against multiple diseases, including severe inherited diseases, viral infections, blood disorders, eye diseases, and cancers.

Dr Chew’s team has been building foundational technologies, including new genome-editing systems for precise edits in the human genome, nucleic acid detection and manipulation tools, as well as high-throughput molecular discovery and engineering platforms that generate new CRISPR-Cas proteins and AAV vectors. Importantly, his work is the first to show that CRISPR-Cas is immunogenic within the body and that it is possible to predict and negate such adverse immune reactions. Dr Chew’s research programme innovates in transformative nucleic acid therapeutics so that these medicines can be safe and efficacious in the clinic.

Dr Chew and his team have contributed numerous patent applications, inventions, and other intellectual properties in the fields of genome engineering and biotechnology. Some of these have gone on to be licensed to multinational corporations and form the technological foundations for new local startups. Dr Chew’s work has been published in journals such as Science, Nature Methods, Nature Biomedical Engineering, and Nature Communications and shared more broadly as publicly accessible pre-prints on bioRvix. He is also active in international consortia, bioethics advisory groups, and public outreach.

Dr Chew has obtained competitive research funding in the areas of synthetic biology, gene editing, oncology, infectious diseases, and biotechnology.

1 CRISPR-Cas are molecular immune systems that defend microbes from viral infections. These naturally occurring CRISPR-Cas have been developed and engineered into programmable DNA and RNA –manipulating technologies, which are now used in many areas of science, technology, industry, and medicine. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020 was recently awarded to the pioneers of CRISPR-Cas research.

Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Awards 2020

Biological & Biomedical Sciences Category

Dr Tan Si Hui
Associate Director, Biology, Cargene Therapeutics
(Formerly from Agency for Science, Technology and Research)

“For her research on cancer and stem cells for intervention opportunities”

Solid tissue cancers like gastric cancer remain highly prevalent and a leading cause of death, despite recent advances in cancer treatment. Efforts for more tailored diagnoses will enable the practice of precision medicine at the bedside.

Dr Tan’s core research interests are in cancer, stem cells and signalling pathways. More specifically, she applies signalling pathways to the understanding of the behaviours of cancers, cancer stem cells and normal stem cells. Together with her teammates and collaborators, she has identified novel molecular markers to isolate and track normal and cancer stem cells in the stomach. She is also tapping into quantum computing to power an innovative method of personalised cancer diagnosis based on signalling pathways.

Trained as a cancer biologist, Dr Tan studied stem cells and signalling pathways in multiple organs, eventually homing into gastric stem cells and cancer. Here, she established Aquaporin-5 (AQP5) as a novel stem cell marker which can be used to isolate human gastric stem cells for the first time, opening up the potential for stomach therapies and in-depth studies of these human stem cells. AQP5 may also be a marker of gastric cancer stem cells, which fuel tumour growth, an exciting prospect that would pave the way for specific therapeutic targeting of gastric cancer stem cells. She is also co-developing a proprietary AI platform that diagnoses patients’ cancers based on a suite of signalling pathway statuses with a local quantum computing start-up, Entropica Labs.

Dr Tan’s work has been published in Nature, Science, Nature Cell Biology, as well as a chapter in the book, Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science. She is also a recipient of the Young Individual Research Grant (Principal Investigator), the Individual Research Grant and Target Translation Consortium (co-Investigator), and the A*STAR National Science Scholarship. Dr Tan is enthusiastic about mentoring and working with biotech startups, having volunteered at Biotech Connection Singapore. Formerly a research scientist at A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology, Dr Tan is now leading a research team in a local biotech start-up, Cargene Therapeutics, to deliver impactful treatments from bench to the bedside.

Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Awards 2020

Physical, Information & Engineering Sciences Category

Dr JohnS Y Ho
Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Principal Investigator, Institute for Health Innovation and Technology, NUS

“For his research in developing innovative wireless healthcare technologies”

Dr Ho’s research seeks to develop wireless technologies that address important challenges in medicine and healthcare. His research pursues fundamental advances in electromagnetics and bioelectronics, as well as novel approaches in device engineering and system integration for translational applications. Working closely with life scientists and clinicians, his research aims to apply innovative technologies to demonstrate new approaches to study, diagnose, and treat disease. Some examples of devices developed by Dr Ho and his collaborators include micro-implants that deliver light for targeted cancer therapy, and smart clothing for daily health monitoring purposes.

In the earlier part of his career, Dr Ho’s research focused on wireless power transfer to bioelectronic devices. With his team members, he proposed a theoretical method to deliver power efficiently to implanted micro-devices, and led its experimental validation. This work became the basis for a minimally invasive neuromodulation device that has since been implanted in patients. Since joining the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2015, he has led a highly interdisciplinary group supported by significant grants from the National Research Foundation (NRF) and Ministry of Education, to develop advanced wireless powering, sensing, and communication technologies for healthcare applications. During the Singapore COVID-19 circuit breaker in 2020, he led the deployment of a wireless remote monitoring system in a worker dormitory.

He has published in leading scientific journals, including Nature Biomedical Engineering, Nature Electronics, Nature Communications, PNAS, and Physical Review Letters. He holds three granted and four pending patents, three of which have been licensed to medical device companies. He has been recognised by many awards, including the NRF Fellowship, NUS Young Investigator Award, MIT Innovator Under 35 Asia, and Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia.

ANNEX E

Fact Sheet on PSA Selection Committees

Judging Process

Nominations for the awards start from January every year, and end with judging and endorsement of the awards in August. The nominations undergo a rigorous process of selection before being shortlisted for judging.

Award Selection Committees

The award selection panels comprised key representatives from the industry, academia, defence and research institutes. The main selection committee was chaired by Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Executive Director, Ministry of Health (MOH) Office for Healthcare Transformation, and Chief Scientist, MOH.

Professor Lee Eng Hin, Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUS, chaired the selection committee for the President’s Science Award.

Professor Ling San, Deputy President and Provost, NTU Singapore, chaired the selection committee for the President’s Technology Award.

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