Young vet has big ambitions to boost research in Singapore

Dr Lee Yan Hui had learnt to conduct physical examinations for cows (left) and to spay a cat during her undergraduate years in Britain. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF LEE YAN HUI

SINGAPORE - Newly graduated veterinarian Lee Yan Hui, 24, has big ambitions to enhance the health and welfare of pets in Singapore. And to achieve this, she is helping to boost veterinary research here.

"Veterinary research is currently very limited in Singapore, where the prevalence of common diseases (among companion animals) is largely unknown," said Dr Lee, who graduated in June from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London.

Researchers need access to lots of data to closely track and study common diseases, among cats for instance, and this is usually hard to get hold of.

This is where Dr Lee comes in.

Next month, she, alongside a team of experienced vets in Singapore and at RVC, will set up a non-profit organisation that will eventually include a library database storing the clinical records of participating vet clinics, so that researchers and students have a one-stop portal to scour through.

This library database, called the Veterinary Companion Animal Surveillance System (VetCompass), exists in countries such as Britain and Australia. It was developed by RVC in 2007.

The main aim of VetCompass is to investigate the prevalence and distribution of health problems among pets in a particular country, and identify important risk factors for common animal disorders.

Dr Lee explained: "Through research, when vets know more about disease A, for instance, we can advise pet owners to look out for the signs, so it helps with early detection. That will allow for early diagnosis and prompt treatment, benefiting the animals' welfare."

She stressed that neither the pet owners' information nor pets' names would be included in the database. VetCompass will store only the clinical records of pets and rescued animals, along with basic information such as age, breed and sex. It will also include microchip numbers.

Dr Lee hopes to get the library database up and running within six months. The Brighton Vet Care clinics in Serangoon Gardens and Bukit Timah have signed up for VetCompass.

There are more than 100 vet clinics here. Those that want to contribute to the library database can write to VetCompass at its e-mail address.

The seed fund to set up the VetCompass software and database here will come from the £5,000 ($9,400) prize money Dr Lee won in June with an undergraduate award.

It was at this year's prestigious International Canine Health Awards, known as the Nobel prizes of the veterinary world.

Dr Lee is the first Singaporean to receive the Undergraduate Student Inspiration Award for her research into aural haematoma - a relatively common condition in dogs where blood wells up in the ear.

She used Britain's VetCompass database to study the condition's prevalence among more than 900,000 dogs. Her study found that dog breeds with V-shaped dropped ears, such as the labrador retriever and St Bernard, were more likely to have the condition than dogs with upright or pendulous ears.

Dr Teo Boon Han, part of the team that will help Dr Lee set up VetCompass in Singapore, said the database would help to raise vet standards. "VetCompass data will guide vets in Singapore to develop more efficient diagnostic and treatment plans, and cost savings may be passed on to the pet owner," said Dr Teo.

The vet consultant at VetTrust Singapore Consulting and Solutions said the database could also be used to monitor disease outbreaks among animals here.

"In the case of animal disease outbreaks or zoonotic diseases, the authorities can use VetCompass' data to support their investigations."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.