Diseases in S'pore to be studied in new centre

A new medical research centre equipped with cutting-edge scanning technology was launched on Wednesday, and it will focus on diseases that are more prevalent in Singapore.

The Clinical Imaging Research Centre, located in the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Centre for Translational Medicine, will study conditions such as dementia, diabetes and dengue.

The centre has acquired a state-of-the-art machine known as a PET/MR scanner, which is able to take very detailed pictures of a person's insides and show how active a disease is. These images will help scientists to identify the causes of diseases and get a better idea of how people are responding to treatments.

Said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who spoke at the opening ceremony: "For diseases that manifest themselves differently in Asians compared to Caucasians, or are more prevalent in Singapore... it is important for Singapore to do our own research."

Referring to the ageing population here, he added: "We must find better ways of helping patients and their families cope with these diseases and continue to live well."

A joint venture between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and NUS, the centre is currently using the $10 million machine for research into tuberculosis. Traditional X-rays can be "primitive" in what they show of patients' response to treatment, said Professor Nicholas Paton from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Often, the black and white images produced by X-rays are shadowy and hard to measure precisely, he added. "The PET/MR gives better pictures of scars and denser tissue, but also shows how much inflammation there is in the lungs," he said.

There are more than 50 ongoing research projects at the new centre, with scientists hoping they can work with companies to speed up the pace of developing new drugs and treatments.

Said the director of the centre, professor David Townsend: "Pharmaceutical and other companies are learning that you really need to understand what's going on inside the body in detail, and the only real way to do that non-invasively is through the imaging technologies that we have here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Diseases in S'pore to be studied in new centre'. Print Edition | Subscribe