Opening Address by Mr Frederick Chew, Chief Executive Officer of A*STAR, at the 2019 ISMRM Workshop on MRI of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, 22 July 2019, at Biopolis

Distinguished Guests,

Friends and Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good morning to all of you.

I am happy to join you at the 2019 workshop on MRI of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders organised by A*STAR’s Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC), and the International Society for Magnetic Resonance Society in Medicine (ISMRM). Let me extend a warm welcome to all of you, some of whom have travelled a long distance to be here.

This workshop brings together internationally recognised scientists and clinicians to share knowledge in the latest developments and applications in advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS). It also aims to expand our understanding of how we can harness technology to tackle obesity and metabolic disorders, which are some of the most pressing healthcare issues we are facing today. The planning of this workshop was initiated by Prof. Harry Hu, Director of Research Radiology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio, Dr. Sendhil Velan, who heads SBIC’s Metabolic Imaging Group, and Prof. Patrick Cozzone, Executive Director of SBIC, when Hu visited SBIC in the Spring of 2017.

Impact of metabolic diseases

An ageing population and unhealthy lifestyles are contributing to the prevalence of obesity, which is a major risk factor for metabolic diseases such as diabetes, as well as other chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, kidney failure and cancer.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, around 425 million people have diabetes, and this number will increase by over 48 per cent to around 629 million by 2045.

In Singapore, diabetes is a major health problem. More than 11 per cent of adults and 30 per cent of the elderly in Singapore have diabetes. Research studies have shown that the incidence of diabetes is influenced by cultural and genetic factors. For example, Asians are more susceptible to getting diabetes as compared to Caucasians and early findings suggest that this may be because Asians are unable to produce enough insulin.

Advancing Health Outcomes through Research & Development

Recognising the significant health and economic burden of diabetes and other metabolic diseases in our country, the Singapore Ministry of Health has dedicated considerable resources towards tackling these diseases, declaring a “war on diabetes” in 2016. At  A*STAR, we have been working closely with partners in the academia, industry, and the clinical community, leveraging advanced technologies such as MRI and MRS, to understand the complex nature of metabolic disorders, so we can address unmet medical needs.

For example, A*STAR’s SBIC, and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) are collaborating with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and the National University Health System (NUHS), in a nation-wide birth cohort study called GUSTO, which studies how the conditions in pregnancy and early childhood influence the health and development of women and children.

The imaging research conducted as part of the study has indicated that ethnic differences in metabolism which could be driven by genetic factors, manifest early in life. These are important findings that will help researchers and clinicians develop effective prevention and early intervention strategies to optimise health.

Imaging research is also contributing to new insights on our understanding of metabolic diseases in the Asian context in a study called the Asian network for Translational Research and Cardiovascular Trials, or ATTRaCT. ATTRaCT is a multi-agency effort by A*STAR, the National Heart Centre, and National University Heart Centre as well as academic institutions – the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. It aims to deepen our understanding of cardiovascular disease progression in heart failure, and aid in the discovery and development of new and improved therapeutics. In this study, SBIC has created an experimental model that mimics the Asian Diabetic Phenotype and invented new imaging technologies to probe the underlying etiology of heart failure development. 

As we invest in further research to develop solutions for better health outcomes, there is an ever-increasing importance to bridge the gap between fundamental research discovery and clinical application.

Bioimaging enables the comprehensive study of anatomy, structure and function and metabolism of the whole body and can help researchers and clinicians identify and study disease pathways, and develop new therapies for major health issues.

In this regard, the ISMRM plays an important role, by bringing together global experts including clinicians, physicists, engineers, biochemists and applied scientists, to promote communication, research, development, and applications in the field of magnetic resonance in medicine and biology and other related topics. ISMRM’s annual conferences, scientific meetings and workshops provide members with a platform to delve deep into subject topics, and exchange new knowledge, as well as explore opportunities to collaborate. Through ISMRM’s Singapore Chapter, SBIC promotes biomedical imaging research, and strengthens the connection between scientific and clinical communities in Singapore.


In closing, I would like to thank the ISMRM Board of Trustees, and Ms. Roberta Kravitz, Executive Director of ISMRM, and Ms. Anne-Marie, Director of Meetings for ISMRM, and SBIC for their efforts in organising this workshop on MRI of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders, as well as the outstanding line-up of speakers who will be covering various aspects of imaging research on metabolic diseases.

Your generosity in sharing your knowledge and expertise will not only serve to deepen our understanding of the diseases, but will, I hope, serve to spark meaningful partnerships among the scientific and clinical community in Singapore and beyond.

On this note, let me wish all of you an inspiring and fruitful symposium.

Thank you.



[1] Incidence of diabetes in Singapore: http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/spores-war-on-diabetes

[2] ST article: Asians 'more at risk of diabetes than Caucasians'  http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/asians-more-at-risk-of-diabetes-than-caucasians

[3] ST article: Study: Asians unable to produce enough insulin - http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/study-asians-unable-to-produce-enough-insulin