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The Consumer Care industry faces increasing pressure to innovate, with increasing demand from consumers for products with scientifically-proven efficacy resulting from greater access to information, pressure by regulatory authorities and activist groups for product safety and efficacy without harming animals, and fast-depleting resources key to the manufacture of consumer products that will require sustainable alternatives.

The Food, Nutrition and Consumer Care (FNCC) cluster develops R&D strategies that best position A*STAR’s suite of cutting edge capabilities to address important industry challenges. Accordingly, FNCC is built upon three strategic thrusts: Safety, Efficacy and Sustainability. By integrating expertise and capabilities across the life and physical sciences in A*STAR’s 18 institutions and working in close collaboration with academic and clinical partners in Singapore, we create focused research programmes that will translate into clinical outcomes and economic impact.

 

  • Skin and Hair Biology

Skin biology research forms the basis of skin care product development. A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) drives a wide range of efforts focusing on skin barrier function, skin immunology, skin genetics, skin ageing, wound healing, and hair and pigmentation disorders as well as prevalent diseases such as acne and atopic dermatitis.

Our research focuses on Asian skin and its related biology. IMB has a dedicated Skin Cell Bank, which is an industry-standard operating unit that provides access to a multi-ethnic collection of cultured cells from different Asian skin types for research. Our skilled technical staff are highly trained in handling and extracting a large number of cell types. We also have the capability to work with common skin conditions from several racial groups. These include atopic dermatitis, acne, pigmentary disorders, rare skin fragility, etc.

IMB has partnered with L’Oreal, which led to the set up of the L’Oreal Advanced Research Centre in Biopolis to help the worldwide leader in cosmetics understand Asian skin types and the effects of the tropics on skin. The establishing of the centre is testament to IMB’s capabilities in skin biology, and is part of L’Oreal’s strategy to internationalise its research and be closer to its consumers.

 

  • Clinical Analysis

Although the skin is the most accessible organ in the body, effective clinical analysis remains a challenge due to the need for painful biopsies and the lack of effective non-invasive imaging techniques.

In response, our scientists at the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC) have developed a Multispectral Optoacoustic Tomography (MSOT) Experimental Imaging Platform (MSOT-EIP system) in collaboration with a German medical imaging company. Based on the detection of optical absorption from hemoglobin and other intrinsic absorbers under the skin, this technology enables unparalleled 3D visualisation of tissue, blood oxygenation, melanin, lipids and chromophores, offering boundless opportunities for non-invasive analysis of the skin and hair in the clinic. The technology is also being developed into handheld devices.

Apart from bioimaging, SBIC also has patented capabilities in Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) for ultrasenstive biosensing applications, such as detection of detection of cancer biomarkers, glucose and lipids.

Other novel optical methods include Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS)/Diffuse Optical imaging (DOI) and Hyper Spectral Imaging (HSI) for bioimaging and Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) for biosensing.

 

  • Asian Nutrition

There is limited research on the nutritional needs and preferences of Asians. The Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC), a joint centre between A*STAR and NUHS, aims to fill this gap by applying cutting-edge nutritional science to deliver new and innovative solutions catered to the Asian population, to enhance health and wellbeing. Due to the prevalence of obesity and Type II diabetes in Singapore and the region, CNRC will focus its research efforts on prevention and management of these conditions, starting with studying appetite control, and optimization of diets for weight loss and weight maintenance. From research and clinical activities on the early exploratory science of foods to downstream production and manufacturing guidelines for food companies in the region, CNRC is well placed to work closely with other research performers and companies to address the needs of the growing Asian food and nutrition industry.

 

  • Human Development

In collaboration with major public maternity hospitals NUH and KKH, A*STAR’s Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) has embarked on a number of developmental cohorts that look to uncover new insights and understanding in the prevention and management of important diseases like obesity and diabetes in Singapore through the study of maternal diets and lifestyles at pre-conception and during pregnancy, and how these affect their babies’ growth after birth.

With an emphasis on evidence-based healthcare, we are actively involved in local and regional epidemiological studies that assess the molecular basis of environmental influences on brain development, psychological health and function. Some of these studies are incorporated within GUSTO, the largest longitudinal birth cohort study in South-East Asia, and we anticipate findings of social and biological significance for today’s Asian family.

 

  • Formulation, Encapsulation, Delivery and Packaging

In view of the rising environmental concerns, there is a push towards safe, effective, eco-friendly yet low-cost ingredients in the food, nutrition and personal care industries. A*STAR leverages capabilities from the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences (ICES) and Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) to conduct holistic research in the area of food, nutrition and personal care.

IMRE is developing an array of natural, multi-purpose polymers that can be functionalised with properties such as antimicrobial, antifungal and odour-reduction effects. Currently, IMRE has over 100 proprietary polymers in its bank. This established polymer technology has led to a partnership with LION Corporation, one of Japan’s largest multinational companies, to develop safer, anti-odour and anti-bacteria household products. The development of composite polymers also creates new packaging materials with embedded sensor technology to enable real-time product quality monitoring and maintain better shelf life of products.

Our scientists at IMRE have also established the Industrial Coating and Packaging Consortium (ICAP) to conduct pre-competitive research that would enable companies to improve existing products and processes in various industries, including food packaging and consumer care products.

The institutions are also focusing on novel encapsulation systems for targeted delivery of sensitive ingredients such as fragrances, anti-oxidants, enzymes and proteins under specific trigger conditions, as well as biocompatible and biodegradable materials such as hydrogels and sugar-based surfactants.

 

  • Modelling and Simulation

A*STAR’s Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) and Bioinformatics Institute (BII) offers computational modelling expertise and solutions which spans across a wide range of applied material science and biological research. These capabilities cover a continuum of timescales and lengthscales, and focuses on molecular modelling techniques to understand the chemical, structural and binding properties of materials and mechanisms of molecular processes, as well as to investigate structure-property relationships.

IHPC and BII’s research covers areas such as nano systems, microstructures, interfacial interactions and fluid dynamics. Modelling and simulation has not only helped in the understanding of molecular dynamics, but also become a platform for the design of novel molecules. For example, IHPC has developed a model to predict how a surfactant can modify the interfacial tension in a formulation. This will be useful in the designing of surfactants to achieve a desired property.

Other research highlights include a cellular lipid membrane model that examines the interaction of antimicrobial molecules with bacteria and human cell membranes and a hair surface model that provides detailed structural understanding at a  molecular level. These models accelerate the design of new actives for maximum safety and efficacy.

 

  • Consumer Understanding

To be successful in the marketplace, a consumer product has to deliver on both product performance backed by strong science, and product appeal backed by strong consumer understanding.

Scientists at the Institute of Infocomm Research (I2R) and the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) are drawing on established capabilities in data mining and analytics, machine learning and human language technologies to develop innovative ways of knowing the consumer better.

For instance, I2R has developed a Brain-Computer Interface that makes use of electroencephalogram (EEG) and machine learning to correlate electrical signatures in a person’s brain with his emotional reaction to sensorial stimuli.

At IHPC, scientists are developing an intelligent system that leverages social media for automated analysis of public and consumer sentiments and emotions, offering a powerful tool for companies to gather consumer insights online.