Top scientists and young achievers awarded Singapore’s highest honours for research discoveries and achievements

Singapore – The 2021 President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) celebrated winners across the fields of healthcare and human early life research, infectious diseases, advanced materials, and cancer diagnostics.

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

The winners, who were selected 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 10 December 2021.

This year, there were two PSTM recipients: Professor Ivy Ng, Group Chief Executive Officer, SingHealth and; Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Scientific Officer, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Agency for Science, Technology (A*STAR). Professor Gluckman is also Director, Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland.

The PSA was awarded to Professor Chen Xiaodong from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) and Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS). The PTA was awarded to Associate Professor Too Heng-Phon from the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS).

The Young Scientist Awards (YSA) were presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister For Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat, alongside the PSTA. The YSA, organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by A*STAR, recognises the accomplishments of researchers under 35, who have shown strong potential to be world-class experts in their chosen fields. Recipients include Dr Sarah Luo from A*STAR, Dr Yvonne Gao from NUS, and Dr Zhang Hanwang from NTU.

Transforming healthcare for Singapore and advancing early human life research

The PSTM was presented to Professor Ivy Ng and Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, respectively, for their outstanding contributions in the development of academic medicine in Singapore, and in advancing capabilities in early human life research.

Professor Ivy Ng was awarded the PSTM for her leadership in the development of academic medicine in Singapore, nurturing clinical research talent, and for pushing the boundaries of medicine to improve health and healthcare delivery. She has been a tireless advocate for biomedical research, innovation and education.

Early in her career as a paediatrician, Professor Ng founded the National Thalassaemia Registry, a game-changer for the early identification of couples who are at risk of bearing children with a severe form of this inherited blood disorder. This resulted in a significant drop in the number of babies born with thalassaemia major, along with better treatment protocols and outcomes for patients. As the CEO of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, she oversaw key initiatives including a programme to screen babies for hearing impairment, which successfully improved early diagnosis and clinical intervention, thereby allowing young children with the condition to have a chance to live normal lives.

Since 2012, Professor Ng has led SingHealth, Singapore’s largest group of public healthcare institutions, in the complex journey of transformation into a thriving academic medical centre. This included setting up the relevant infrastructure and support systems for research, innovation and education in healthcare, and fostering multi-disciplinary collaboration among the medical, scientific and education communities. Her focus on developing people has greatly benefited Singapore’s research and education talent pool, and helped to ensure a robust pipeline of healthcare professionals, clinician scientists and innovators, and healthcare educators for the future. She also oversaw the development of the 20-year Singapore General Hospital Campus Masterplan to meet the evolving and future healthcare needs of Singaporeans.

Professor Gluckman was awarded the PSTM for his outstanding contributions to advancing health, clinical and biomedical sciences research. In particular, he has been instrumental in building Singapore’s early life research landscape since 2007. He was the scientific architect behind the development of cohort studies that had a strong focus on understanding the links between maternal health and early childhood development. These studies, carried out in close partnership with key institutions (National University Health System, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, NUS, and A*STAR), have yielded deep insights into metabolic disease and other major diseases in Singapore. They have, in turn, had a positive impact on local healthcare policy and practice.

Professor Gluckman’s strong background in research commercialisation helped to attract industry investment to Singapore. He successfully convinced key food and nutrition companies of Singapore’s value as a regional R&D hub, and to undertake research and clinical trials in maternal and infant nutrition in Singapore. He has also nurtured a pipeline of talent who have gone on to develop and support scientific capabilities required in the human potential domain, such as the developmental origins of brain and metabolic health in both children and adults.

On the international stage, Professor Gluckman has written and spoken extensively on science policy, risk assessment, science diplomacy, and science-society interactions. He continues to influence international policies and research through notable forums and platforms. He served for several years as the Chief Science Advisor to the New Zealand Prime Minister. Professor Gluckman also led the regional network of Chief Scientific Advisors and Equivalents, an extension arm of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), as well as the Small Advanced Economies Initiative (SAEI), which brought together Singapore, New Zealand, Israel, Finland and Denmark and Ireland to discuss issues relating to science and innovation in small country economies.

Bridging human technology integration by advancing materials science and flexible electronics

Professor Chen Xiaodong from NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering was awarded the PSA for his outstanding contributions in soft bioelectronics. He created a wide range of soft composite materials for flexible electrodes which conform and adhere to human skin and animal tissues, and are also easily scalable. Through his endeavours, Professor Chen pioneered an emerging field called mechanomaterials, by establishing a method that proactively programmed materials’ functionalities by leveraging the force-geometry-property relationships. By applying such functional materials, he built bioelectronic interfaces that convert biological signals into electrical outputs. Among his latest successes is the creation of the world’s first plant-based robot, using a soft composite material to pick up electrical signals in plants —a breakthrough with the potential to enhance the monitoring of the health of crops, and food security.

Professor Chen augmented the sensing capability of soft sensors by mimicking the human nervous system, raising the accuracy of hand gesture recognition technology by fusing visual and tactile sensors. Such digitalisation of the human senses has vast potential to become a technology enabler for the next-generation soft robotics, prostheses, wearables for healthcare, and other smart applications.

Professor Chen has also fostered greater synergy among the local and international scientific community in developing cutting-edge sensing technology in his role as Scientific Director at A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and the Singapore Hybrid-Integrated Next-Generation μ-Electronics Centre (SHINE). His contributions help pave the way for Singapore to manufacture next-generation flexible electronic devices. These collective efforts complement his pursuit for innovation impactful science.

Translating studies in bat biology and emerging viral diseases into biomedical innovations and impactful pandemic responses

Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS Medical School was awarded the PSA for his breakthrough research and contributions to the field of bat biology and emerging viral diseases. Professor Wang established bats as a new model system for understanding zoonotic transmission, and notably led the international team of experts which discovered that bats were the reservoir for SARS-CoV-1. His research will help to better predict, prevent and control future viral spillover events and may lead to novel approaches for improving human health. Beyond infectious diseases, his research has implications for other conditions including cancer, inflammation as well as ageing-related and metabolic diseases.

Professor Wang made very significant contributions to Singapore’s COVID-19 response, including the development of a novel rapid serological test kit that detects SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies with high specificity and sensitivity. Developed and commercialised in collaboration with the Diagnostics Development Hub (DxD Hub) and GenScript Biotech Corporation, the test was launched in Singapore as cPass, and is currently the only FDA-approved test for detecting SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies and used in more than 50 countries. Professor Wang is a member of multiple international and national research committees and workgroups and has contributed to policies and roadmaps for identifying emerging zoonotic diseases, preparing national and international agencies to better respond to epidemics and pandemics.

Developing a new method to accurately detect microRNA disease biomarkers for early detection of cancer and other diseases

The PTA was awarded to Associate Professor Too Heng-Phon from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine for his groundbreaking work in developing an accurate, versatile method to detect miRNA biomarkers. His research would go on to be commercialised and applied to the discovery of biomarkers for the early detection of cancers and other diseases.

Associate Professor Too’s technology enabled the development of the world’s first molecular blood test for the early detection of gastric cancer, which has allowed patients the best chance of long-term survival. The technology has also been used to develop assays for early detection of lung and breast cancer, with clinical validation studies done in the last two years.

Associate Professor Too is also the Co-founder, Chief Scientific Advisor and Non-executive Chairman of MiRXES, a Singapore-headquartered biotechnology company that has licensed and commercialised his miRNA detection technology which is used to develop solutions to improve and save lives.

Uncovering the brain-body connection in feeding behaviour

Dr Sarah Luo from A*STAR’s Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) was awarded the YSA for discovering a novel region in the brain that regulates feeding behaviour. When activated in mouse models, the brain region led to increased food consumption even when mice were not hungry. The same brain region also contributed to excessive feeding in defined environments, demonstrating that the environment also plays a part in regulating feeding.

The work of Dr Luo and her team is important for the understanding of the brain’s role in feeding behaviour has an impact on metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes, and contributes to A*STAR’s Brain-Body Initiative . Her work will also help to further uncover the link between the brain region and metabolic dysfunction in neurodegenerative diseases, as many such diseases have a metabolic component and show feeding dysregulation symptoms.

Developing hardware building blocks for quantum computers

Dr Yvonne Gao from the NUS Department of Physics and the Centre for Quantum Technologies at NUS was awarded the YSA for her research focusing on building a hardware that is scalable and robust to realise a practical quantum computer. These developments are critical for scaling up quantum devices while effectively preserving their performance. In her PhD work, Dr Gao performed the first experimental demonstration of a universal entangling operations between multi-photon quantum elements.

Dr Gao’s PhD work has already resulted in two patents, both of which have been licensed in a Yale spin-off based in the United States.

Pioneering applied causality in artificial intelligence (AI)

Dr Zhang Hanwang from the School of Computer Science and Engineering at NTU was awarded the YSA for his work to use group theory to build a general causal framework for artificial intelligence that can actively intervene in the environment, collect data on demand, and generate unseen data. Dr Zhang’s research is critical for the building of next-generation AI that reduces the reliance on big data sample sizes, as it would limit the collection of user data and reduce energy costs of model training, without sacrificing performance.

Dr Zhang and his team are recognised for their causality-based algorithms for robust AI models. Their unbiased visual solutions such as video surveillance, fire control monitoring, and recommendation system, have been widely adopted in the Alibaba City Brain system, which uses AI to gather information across cities to help address some of urban life’s difficulties.


For media enquiries, please contact:

Ms Shirley Wong
Assistant Head, Corporate Communications
Agency for Science, Technology and Research
HP: 9796 4527
Email: Shirley_Wong@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.


ANNEX A

LIST OF PSTA WINNERS

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

Professor Ivy Ng
Group CEO, SingHealth
Clinical Professor, Duke-NUS Medical School
Clinical Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Governing Board Member, Duke-NUS Medical School
Board Member, National Medical Research Council (NMRC)
Member, Human Health and Potential Executive Committee, National Research Foundation (NRF)

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman
Chief Scientific Officer, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Visiting Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Director, Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland
Director Emeritus and University Distinguished Professor, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland
President, International Science Council

II. President’s Science Award (PSA)

Professor Chen Xiaodong
President’s Chair Professor, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
Director, Innovative Centre for Flexible Devices, NTU
Scientific Director, Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Deputy Director, Singapore Hybrid-Integrated Next-Generation μ-Electronics Centre (SHINE)

Professor Wang Linfa
Professor, Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Medical School
Executive Director, Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Responses (PREPARE), Ministry of Health

III.President’s Technology Award (PTA)

Associate Professor Too Heng-Phon
Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Associate Professor, NUS Centre for Cancer Research, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Co-founder, Chief Scientific Advisor and Non-Executive Chairman, MiRXES


ANNEX B

CITATIONS OF PSTA WINNERS

PRESIDENT’S SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MEDAL 2021

Professor Ivy Ng
Group CEO, SingHealth
Clinical Professor, Duke-NUS Medical School
Clinical Professor, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Governing Board Member, Duke-NUS Medical School
Board Member, National Medical Research Council (NMRC)
Member, Human Health and Potential Executive Committee, National Research Foundation (NRF)

“For her outstanding leadership in the development of academic medicine in Singapore through advancing health and biomedical sciences research and innovation, nurturing clinical research talent, and establishing strategic partnerships among academia, healthcare and industry, to improve health and healthcare delivery.”

Professor Ivy Ng is an accomplished clinician-leader with a strong vision and deep passion for academic medicine. Academic medicine, which encompasses clinical and basic research that is informed by and targets important health problems, is critical for the translation of research discoveries into innovations that improve health and clinical outcomes and contribute to the development of the medical practices of the future. Academic Medical Centres (AMCs) promote an environment which integrates education and research with clinical work, and fosters a culture where clinicians, researchers, educators and staff continually study clinical problems, review data, pursue research and advance innovations that contribute to better care and outcomes.

Prof Ng has played a pivotal role in transforming SingHealth into a thriving AMC since her appointment as its Group Chief Executive Officer (GCEO) in 2012. This was a very challenging endeavour given the size and complexity of SingHealth, Singapore’s largest public healthcare cluster with four acute care hospitals, five national specialty centres, three community hospitals and a network of polyclinics, with a total staff strength of more than 30,000.

Prof Ng has led SingHealth in restructuring and transforming itself for its academic medicine journey, ensuring that it has the right infrastructure, support and talent to pursue biomedical research, innovation and education. She has been instrumental in driving the advancement of the SingHealth Duke-NUS academic medicine partnership, where she oversaw the formation of 15 Academic Clinical Programmes, 13 SingHealth Duke-NUS Disease Centres, 16 Joint Institutes, and five Academic Colleges – initiatives that integrate research and education with clinical care. These platforms foster the multidisciplinary collaboration among the medical, scientific and education communities that enables care transformation.

Prof Ng places particular emphasis on talent development as this is key to shaping the future of healthcare. Under her leadership, the research and education talent pool expanded tremendously. As of 31 Dec 2020, SingHealth produced 60 national clinician scientists and around 35 budding clinician scientists, with a multi-fold increase in research productivity and research competitiveness, such as publishing more than three times the number of research papers annually, compared to 10 years ago. She has played a pivotal role in recruiting to Singapore top international scientists to spearhead new research areas, galvanise research across different fields and mentor aspiring local researchers. Under her leadership, SingHealth has played a key role in Residency training nationally, with the cluster delivering almost half of the national healthcare and clinical training.

Prof Ng oversaw the development of the 20-year Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Campus Masterplan. Beyond ensuring that the plan would meet Singapore’s future healthcare needs, Prof Ng and her team also sought to develop and support a rich ecosystem that interlinks clinical care, education and research. When fully developed, the campus will include dedicated spaces and purpose-built facilities for the full spectrum of research, from basic science to clinical and translational research, as well as catalyse new innovations and technological advancements.

Prof Ng’s own career has successfully spanned clinical medicine, wet bench research, teaching and academic medicine leadership. In her early days as a paediatrician, Prof Ng set out to elucidate the molecular spectrum of thalassaemia. Her research and subsequent founding of the National Thalassaemia Registry in 1992, which registered index cases and facilitated the proactive screening of at-risk individuals, led to accurate genetic counselling and, where appropriate, prenatal diagnosis. This was a game-changer for the early identification of at-risk couples and resulted in a significant drop in the number of babies born with thalassaemia major, as well as better treatment protocols and better outcomes for such patients.

When she took the helm as the CEO of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) in 2004, she oversaw key initiatives such as the introduction of a programme to screen babies for hearing impairment so that young children with the condition can have a chance to lead normal lives. The programme was successful in improving the early diagnosis and clinical intervention of hearing impairment, and in reducing the burden of the disease.

Prof Ng’s exemplary leadership and contributions are guided by what is central to medicine – the patient, and the firm belief in the major benefits that advancements in medicine, made possible by high quality research and education, bring to the patient.


PRESIDENT’S SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MEDAL 2021

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman
Chief Scientific Officer, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Visiting Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Director, Koi Tū: The Centre for Informed Futures, University of Auckland
Director Emeritus and University Distinguished Professor, Liggins Institute, University of Auckland
President, International Science Council

“For his outstanding leadership in advancing health, clinical and biomedical sciences research, particularly the strengthening of developmental and early life research and enhancing Singapore’s human health and potential R&D capabilities”

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman is an internationally renowned leader in human early life research, with a distinguished career in paediatrics and perinatal biology, developmental neuroscience, and paediatric and experimental endocrinology. He has made pivotal contributions to Singapore’s early life research landscape since 2007. Prof Gluckman was the scientific architect behind the development of cohort studies that had a strong focus on understanding maternal-infant metabolic development and on neurobehavioral, cognitive and emotional development in early childhood. The research was carried by a consortium of key institutions (National University Health System, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, NUS and A*STAR) and has uncovered findings with important long-term implications. These have also had a positive impact on healthcare policy and practice in Singapore.

Prof Gluckman joined the newly-formed Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences (SICS) at A*STAR in 2007, and worked with NUS and SICS to develop a research plan to address the rising rates of metabolic disease in Singapore. This included developing the GUSTO birth cohort, clinical studies in metabolism, and forging networks for world class scientists to engage with SICS. Prof Gluckman was subsequently appointed Chief Scientific Officer at SICS and Honorary Professor at NUS, roles that continue today. Prof Gluckman’s strong background in research commercialisation also attracted industry investment to Singapore. His contributions led to the establishment of the Clinical Nutritional Research Centre (CNRC) in 2012 to further human nutrition research and facilitate collaborations with industry. Today, the Centre has an active pipeline of programmes and undertakes industry collaborations to develop products and formulate diets, which seek to reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity, among other health concerns. He also successfully convinced key food and nutrition companies that Singapore would be an ideal regional R&D hub to undertake research and clinical trials in maternal and infant nutrition.

Over the last 16 years, Prof Gluckman brought together and nurtured a pipeline of talent and notable clinical research scientists. These individuals have gone on to help develop and support the capabilities required for advancing human potential, such as the developmental origins of health, as applied to both brain and metabolic health.

Prof Gluckman has spearheaded numerous studies into developmental perspectives on growth metabolism and neurodevelopment, and published more than 600 peer-reviewed articles which have garnered over 45,000 citations. To this day, he remains an active scientist co-leading the Centre for Holistic Initiatives for Learning and Development (CHILD)2 in Singapore, which aims to advance emotional and cognitive development in children, and also on major workstreams that are supported by the Wellcome LEAP Fund.

Prof Gluckman was appointed a member of the National Medical Research Council Board from 2010 - 2013, the co-Chair of the Ministry of Health’s Cohort Strategy Review Committee in 2019 and an Expert Panel Member for the Health and Biomedical Sciences International Advisory Council (HBMS IAC) in 2020, providing valuable scientific advice that would shape policies and strategies for human potential research in Singapore.

Prof Gluckman has written and spoken extensively on science policy, risk assessment, science diplomacy, and science-society interactions, and continues to influence international policies and research through notable forums and platforms. He remains the founding Chair of the planning group of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), which operates under the aegis of the International Council for Science (ICSU). Prof Gluckman was formerly Chief Science Advisor to the New Zealand Prime Minister, and also led the regional network of Chief Scientific Advisors and Equivalents, an extension arm of the Asia Pacific Economics Cooperation (APEC), and the Small Advanced Economies Initiative (SAEI), which brought together Singapore, New Zealand, Israel, Finland, Denmark and Ireland to discuss issues relating to science and innovation in small country economies.

Prof Gluckman is the recipient of several prestigious awards including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) award in Science Diplomacy (2016), the Member of the Order of New Zealand (2015), the Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (2009) and the Rutherford Medal (2001). 2

CHILD’s founding partners include the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Lien Foundation, Centre for Evidence and Implementation (CEI), and SICS.


PRESIDENT’S SCIENCE AWARD 2021

Professor Chen Xiaodong
President’s Chair Professor, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University (NTU)
Director, Innovative Centre for Flexible Devices, NTU
Scientific Director, Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Deputy Director, Singapore Hybrid-Integrated Next-Generation μ-Electronics Centre (SHINE)

“For his outstanding contribution to advanced materials research for soft bioelectronics capable of digitising biological senses and extending human sensing capabilities, and their application to advanced manufacturing and healthcare wearables”

Over the last 12 years, Professor Chen Xiaodong’s cutting-edge interdisciplinary research has advanced the frontiers of materials science and flexible electronics, and created the potential to disrupt advanced manufacturing, smart wearables, and digital healthcare.

There is ever-rising demand for more seamless human-electronic device integration that will enable consistent data capture and application. However, the major challenge lies in the inability of conventional electronics to pick up reliable biological signals from the human body. This is due to fundamental mismatches such as incompatible surfaces (soft skin vs rigid sensors) and signal reading formats (physical vs digital systems). Determined to overcome these obstacles, Prof Chen directed his research focus on soft bioelectronics to develop solutions that could bridge the space between humans and technology.

Prof Chen has created a wide range of soft composite materials for flexible electrodes which have superior stretchability and electronic conductivity. These electrodes can conform and adhere to human skin and animal tissues and are also easily scalable. Through these efforts, he pioneered an emerging field called mechanomaterials, by establishing a method that proactively programs the functionalities of materials by leveraging the force-geometry-property relationships.

A crucial requirement to advance the application of science and technology in augmenting human performance, is the digitalisation of human senses. Prof Chen has resolved challenges of fidelity, stability, sensitivity, and reliability for biological sensing, using advanced functional materials to build bioelectronic interfaces that can convert biological signals into electrical outputs. Among his latest successes is the creation of the world’s first plant-based robot, which he developed using a soft composite material to pick up electrical signals in plants. This breakthrough research has the potential to enhance the monitoring of the health or crops, and food security.

Prof Chen augmented the sensing capability of soft sensors by mimicking the human nervous system. He raised the accuracy of hand gesture recognition technology to 100% by fusing visual and tactile sensors. Prof Chen also developed an artificial neural network for use in electronic noses, which can assess the freshness of meat at up to 98.5% accuracy, greatly enhancing food safety. As illustrated in his research achievements, the digitalisation of the human senses has great potential to become a technology enabler for the next-generation soft robotics, contributing to improvements in prostheses, wearables for healthcare, and other smart applications.

Prof Chen is a firm believer in fundamental research to benefit humanity. To achieve this, he partners with the private sector and government agencies to accelerate the deployment of his technology. For example, his inventions, such as artificial epidermis based on plasticized silk and wearable tactile sensors, are undergoing validation tests for skincare product development. The stretchable electrodes for the monitoring of long-term chronic conditions have also been licensed to companies for commercialization.

Prof Chen has forged strong partnerships with local and international scientists and helped elevate Singapore’s standing on the global R&D stage. As the Programme Director of the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Programme on Cyber-Physiochemical Interfaces and the Deputy Director of SHINE, Prof Chen helps steer national efforts to build platforms for the manufacturing of next-generation flexible electronic devices and to develop technologies capable of perceiving and analysing human physiological wellbeing.

As a President’s Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NTU and the Scientific Director of A*STAR’s IMRE, Prof Chen’s role has extended beyond the pursuit of science. He is a passionate advocate for the nurturing of talent and leaders who work to solve societal challenges and shape the future of Singapore.

Prof Chen has published over 330 papers that are globally recognized and highly cited, garnering more than 30,000 citations to date. Professor Chen has received numerous accolades for his outstanding scientific contributions, including the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF) Investigatorship, Singapore NRF Fellowship, Winner of Falling Walls, and Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award.


PRESIDENT’S SCIENCE AWARD 2021

Professor Wang Linfa
Professor, Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Medical School
Executive Director, Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Responses (PREPARE), Ministry of Health

“In recognition of his stellar contributions to the field of bat biology and emerging viral diseases, and the successful translation of his discoveries into biomedical innovations that have helped combat several viral outbreaks, including the COVID-19 pandemic”

Professor Wang Linfa is one of the world’s foremost experts on emerging bat-borne viruses. Through his body of work, published over several decades, Prof Wang has established bats as a new model system for understanding zoonotic transmission of viral diseases. His breakthrough research and biomedical innovations have informed national responses to multiple major outbreaks and pandemics.

Bats, the only flying mammals, have a remarkable ability to host viruses without showing any clinical signs of infection. Over the last few decades, the viruses behind major outbreaks the world has seen, including Hendra, SARS, MERS, Marburg, Ebola, and the current COVID-19 pandemic, are suspected to have originated from bats. Understanding what makes bats an ideal reservoir for so many viruses is a major focus of Prof Wang’s research.

Originally trained in biochemistry and molecular biology, Prof Wang built his expertise in bat biology and emerging viruses by forging an extensive network of collaborations with virologists, immunologists, bat biologists and infectious disease experts across the globe. His team’s surveillance studies of wildlife, livestock and human hosts have been instrumental in identifying bats as major reservoirs of emerging zoonotic viruses.

Most notably, Prof Wang led the international team of experts which discovered that bats were the reservoir for SARS-CoV-1. More recently, he has shown that bats gained their uncanny ability to co-exist with viruses by adapting their host defense mechanisms over 65 million years of evolutionary history. This new understanding will help to better predict, prevent and control future viral spillovers, and may lead to novel approaches for improving human health.

Beyond infectious diseases, Prof Wang’s bat biology research has implications for other diseases, including cancer, inflammatory diseases and ageing-related complications. Two patents and a novel class of anti-inflammatory drugs that is under development have emerged from his work that unraveled the unique inflammatory responses exhibited by bats.

From being the first in Singapore to culture SARS-CoV-2 from a patient’s blood sample to being the first in the world to adopt retrospective serological testing for more effective contact tracing, Prof Wang’s team has made significant contributions to Singapore’s COVID-19 response. To advance serological testing, he developed a novel surrogate virus neutralisation test that detects SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies with high specificity and sensitivity. Developed and commercialised in collaboration with DxD Hub and GenScript, the test was launched in Singapore in May 2020 under the trade name cPassTM. cPass is currently the only FDA-approved test for detecting SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies and is used in more than 50 countries, impacting vaccination strategies as well as deepening our understanding of long-term immunity. It is further being deployed in an ASEAN-wide serological follow-up study of vaccine efficacy, of which Prof Wang is a lead principal investigator.

Prof Wang’s most recent work focuses on designing a third-generation coronavirus vaccine (3GCoVax) that could combat not only known SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also other coronaviruses that may emerge in the future. Currently under development as a generic booster, 3GCoVax is based on Prof Wang’s groundbreaking discovery that SARS-CoV-1 survivors who have been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 produce powerful neutralising antibodies.

As a member of multiple WHO COVID-19 committees, the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Singapore’s COVID-19 Research Workgroup, Prof Wang has contributed to policies and roadmaps for identifying emerging zoonotic diseases and preparing national and international agencies to better respond to epidemics and pandemics. He is currently Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School and was recently appointed Executive Director of the recently established National Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Responses (PREPARE).. He has nurtured several young scientists into independent principal investigators and, since joining Duke-NUS eight years ago, trained five MD-PhD students.

Having published over 450 papers, including many in top journals like Science, Nature, and Lancet, Prof Wang’s work earned him more than 36,000 citations and a H-index of 97 (Web of Science 2021). He was also elected to prestigious academic bodies, including the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (2010) and the American Academy of Microbiology (2021) in recognition of his exemplary contributions to the field.


PRESIDENT’S TECHNOLOGY AWARD 2021

Associate Professor Too Heng-Phon
Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Associate Professor, NUS Centre for Cancer Research, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS)
Co-founder, Chief Scientific Advisor and Non-Executive Chairman, MiRXES

“For his groundbreaking work in developing a method for accurate, versatile detection of microRNA disease biomarkers, leading to the clinical implementation of blood tests for early detection of diseases such as cancer”

For more than 10 years, Assoc Prof Too has been developing methods and assays for the accurate detection of microRNA (miRNA) biomarkers, the smallest pieces of genetic material. In 2010, he patented and published his work on the development of a miRNA qPCR assay platform technology which was subsequently commercialised and applied to the discovery of biomarkers for the early detection of cancers and other diseases. Notably, the technology has enabled the development of the world’s first molecular blood test for the early detection of gastric cancer, which received the CE mark in 2017 and regulatory approval from Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority in 2019.

The test, developed in collaboration with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), National University Hospital (NUH), and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), is already changing clinical practice in hospitals and clinics in Singapore, and allowing patients with gastric cancer to be detected early, when they have the best chance of survival. Regulatory submissions for the gastric cancer test are underway in Japan and China, countries with some of the highest gastric cancer incidence worldwide.

The gastric cancer diagnostic product’s development process has been documented to form the basis of the standard for the validation of microRNA (miRNA)-based diagnostics published by Enterprise Singapore in 2020. The technology platform has also been validated to have industry-leading sensitivity in data published by MSD Translational Biomarker researchers.

In addition to being a faculty member of the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Assoc Prof Too is a scientific co-founder of MiRXES, a leading Singapore-headquartered biotechnology company started in 2014 as a spin-off from A*STAR, which has licensed and commercialised his miRNA detection technology. Today, the company is a global leader in miRNA technology and diagnostics. Apart from the gastric cancer blood test, the technology has been used to develop assays for early detection of lung and breast cancer, with clinical validation studies done in collaboration with clinicians from Singapore and overseas published in high-impact scientific journals in the last two years.

The technology developed by Assoc Prof Too has been made available to life science researchers worldwide by MiRXES as part of the company’s suite of research reagents and services. It has been applied to basic research as well as clinical miRNA biomarker discovery for over 10 cancer types and over 30 disease types. Since its beginnings in Assoc Prof Too’s lab, the mission of MiRXES has been to save and improve lives by translating research discoveries from lab to the clinic, and this continues to be the thrust of his research today.

Assoc Prof Too has published over 100 papers covering a broad spectrum of scientific and engineering disciplines, including translational and basic cancer research, neurobiology, metabolic engineering, gene therapy, molecular assay development, nanoparticles, and stem cell research. He has filed 18 distinct inventions in the field of disease diagnostics, therapeutics, and biotransformation, a number of which have been licensed by the industry.


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 2021

Biological & Biomedical Sciences category

Dr Sarah Luo
Principal Investigator, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

Physical, Information & Engineering Sciences category

Dr Yvonne Gao
Presidential Young Professor, Department of Physics, National University of Singapore
Principal Investigator, Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore

Dr Zhang Hanwang
Assistant Professor, School of Computer Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University

Young Scientist Awards Selection Committee

The judging committee for the Young Scientist Awards, which are organised and administered by the Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS), is chaired by its President, A/Prof Lim Tit Meng, President, Singapore Association for Advancement of Science and Chief Executive Officer, Science Centre Singapore.


ANNEX D

CITATIONS OF YSA WINNERS

Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Awards 2021
Biological & Biomedical Sciences Category

Dr Sarah Luo
Principal Investigator, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology and Research
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

“For her research in the neural circuit underpinnings of appetite regulation”

Dr Luo’s research focuses on brain regulation of feeding behaviour and the implications of its impairment in metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes. Her work brings together neuroscience and metabolic research, to understand how the brain and body interact to control whole body metabolism.

Dr Luo has discovered a novel region in the brain, the tuberal nucleus, that regulates feeding behaviour and uncovered its signalling pathway leading to food consumption. When this brain region was activated in mouse models, it led to increased food consumption even when mice were not hungry. Furthermore, together with Dr Luo’s colleagues at IMCB, they discovered the same brain region contributes to excessive feeding in defined environments. This pioneering research has challenged the existing notion that only two groups of neurons in the brain control feeding behaviour and demonstrated that environment also plays a part in regulating feeding. Dr Luo and her team are also working further to establish a link between this brain region and metabolic dysfunction in neurodegenerative disease, as many such diseases have a metabolic component and show feeding dysregulation symptoms. Further studies in understanding bidirectional communication between the brain and body could contribute new translational approaches to help patients affected by feeding dysregulation and metabolic disorders.

Dr Luo’s team is building up expertise and inter-RI collaborations under A*STAR’s Brain-Body Initiative, using multiomics approaches and advanced imaging to identify critical neural circuits, as well as uncovering their contributions to metabolic regulation and feeding behaviour. Dr Luo is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Department of Physiology at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and collaborates with one of its research groups. These research initiatives and collaborations contribute to understanding feeding behaviour and the conditions that lead to increased food intake, which is key to tackling the increased prevalence of obesity and metabolic disorders worldwide.

Dr Luo has mentored and trained over 20 young scientists. She is also actively involved in scientific outreach to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in youths and encourage gender diversity in science. She is the Events Director for the Society for Neuroscience-Singapore Chapter, and organises events and symposiums to promote neuroscience research locally. She participated in the A*STAR Scientist in School programme, 2019 STAR Lecture, and was a judge in the National Science Challenge 2021.

Dr Luo is a recipient of the 2021 National Research Foundation Fellowship, the 2019 National Medical Research Council Young Individual Research Grant (YIRG) and the National Science Scholarship. She has nine peer-reviewed publications with a h-index of 7, including those in Science and Nature Neuroscience.


Singapore National Academy of Science Young Scientist Awards 2021 Physical, Information & Engineering Sciences Category

Dr Yvonne Gao
Presidential Young Professor, Department of Physics, National University of Singapore
Principal Investigator, Centre for Quantum Technologies, National University of Singapore

“For her work on developing the key hardware building blocks for quantum computers”

Dr Gao’s research focuses on building a hardware that is both scalable and robust to realise a practical quantum computer. In particular, she works on constructing modular hardware building blocks, such as engineering novel device architectures and programmable logical operations between protected quantum bits of information.

The elements Dr Gao has developed are critical for scaling up quantum devices while effectively preserving their performance. In her PhD work, she performed the first experimental demonstration of a universal entangling operations between multi-photon quantum elements. These have led to several high-profile publications in some of the best international journals such as Science and Nature. Her work has also resulted in two patents, both of which have been licensed in a Yale spin-off based in the United States. They form the technical cornerstone for their effort in commercialising quantum computers.

Dr Gao joined NUS as a Presidential Young Professor and a Principal Investigator in the Centre for Quantum Technologies in 2020 to develop the circuit quantum electrodynamics technology in Singapore. The research and technical capabilities of Dr Gao’s team provide a rich and versatile avenue for collaborative studies, both in the fundamental investigations of quantum physics and in developing full-stack quantum computing technologies.

Dr Gao is also mentoring the next generation of young scientists, with public talks, popular science writing, and school outreach activities. Her research team strives to create opportunities for high-school students to gain experience in research, to inspire them to further pursuit their interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Dr Gao believes that educating and empowering young science enthusiasts is essential to create a sustainable ecosystem for developing cutting-edge technologies.

Dr Gao is a recipient of the 2000 National Research Foundation Fellowship, and has been recognised as a MIT Tech Review, TR35 (Asia-Pacific) Innovator and one of Singapore Women’s Weekly’s Great Women of Our Times 2020. To date, she has a total of 14 peer-reviewed publications with a h-index of 12, including articles in Science, Nature, and Nature Communications, and 670 citations.

Dr Zhang Hanwang
Assistant Professor, School of Computer Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University

“For his pioneering and fundamental contributions to applied causality in AI”

Dr Zhang uses group theory, the fundamental rule that abstracts changes, to build a general causal framework describing what AI learns, how AI learns, and where to transfer the AI’s learning. With this framework, he can pinpoint challenges in AI, such as data efficiency, data ambiguity, and machine imagination. Compared to the prevalent approach of passive data feeding, Dr Zhang’s AI can actively intervene in the environment, collect data on demand, and generate unseen data.

While AI uses big data to imitate human thinking processes, it is still unable to generate more complex or subtle human traits such as common sense, sympathy, or explainability. Dr Zhang’s research would build up next-generation AI that reduces the reliance on big data sample sizes. This would limit the collection of user data and reduce the energy cost of model training without sacrificing significant performance.

Dr Zhang and his team have developed and been recognised for a number of causality-based algorithms for robust AI models. They were the 2019 winner of the Visual Dialog Challenge, a task that requires an AI agent to hold meaningful dialogue with humans in natural, conversational language about visual content. Dr Zhang’s team also won the Alibaba Innovation award 2020 for their unbiased visual solutions such as video surveillance, fire control monitoring, and recommendation system, which were widely adopted in the Alibaba City Brain system. Dr Zhang is also recognised as one of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) AI’s 10 to Watch 2020 for his development, and improvement, of a new causal perspective for a wide spectrum of prevalent machine learning techniques.

Dr Zhang believes that his team’s theory and practice will be able to serve as an infrastructure in various AI applications such as online education, fintech, and healthcare for Singapore.

Dr Zhang also recruits and nurtures outstanding local research staff and PhD students. He works closely with the NTU-Alibaba Joint Research Institute, where he hosts Singapore Economic Development Board Industrial Postgraduate Programme (EDB-IPP) research students focusing on cutting-edge AI R&D to benefit industry.

Dr Zhang has published over 100 papers in top-tier conferences and journals in the field of AI, that have 46 h-index and over 10,000 citations. He is the recipient of numerous academic paper awards such as the IEEE TMM Best Paper Prize 2020, ACM TOMM Nicolas D. Georganas Best Paper Award 2018, ACM SIGIR Best Paper Mention 2016, and ACM MM Best Student Paper 2013.


ANNEX E

FACT SHEET ON PSTA 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, and research institutes. The main selection committee was chaired by Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Chief Scientist, Ministry of Health and Executive Director, MOH Office for Healthcare Transformation.

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, Nanyang Technological University, chaired the selection committee for the President’s Technology Award.