New cancer centre at Biopolis aims to improve diagnosis with faster imaging scans

The Advanced Medicine Imaging (AMI) Centre is a regional oncology facility at Biopolis.
The Advanced Medicine Imaging (AMI) Centre is a regional oncology facility at Biopolis.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

SINGAPORE - A new cancer centre at science hub Biopolis promises faster and clearer imaging scans, with lower radiation exposure.

The Advanced Medicine Imaging (AMI) Centre, which opened on Wednesday (June 6), aims to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, which is the leading cause of death in Singapore.

The centre said its new PET/CT imaging machines are capable of performing scans at one-tenth the typical time required, and at a lower PET dose, reducing radiation exposure.

PET scans typically take up to 60 minutes to be completed.

The centre said its machines also produce higher-quality images, which can better detect and characterise lesions such as tumours.

This allows for the early detection of even small tumours, resulting in treatment being administered more quickly with fewer invasive procedures, said the centre.

It added that this is the first time this technology - the Philips Vereos PET/CT scanners - is being brought into Asia-Pacific.

The centre is run by the Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings (SAM) and technology company Royal Philips, in partnership with companies such as Varian Medical Systems and IBA Worldwide.

Mr Henk de Jong, Philip's chief of international markets, said that the centre's capabilities would enable better prevention and early detection, which are key to the treatment of cancer.

Said Dr Djeng Shih Kien, founder and chairman of SAM: "We realised that despite treatment, and the ever-increasing cost of treatment, the outcome did not really improve the quality of life."

He added: "We set out to look for a sustainable healthcare model that is backed by solid medical technology that can fulfil our mission of providing early and accurate diagnosis and to institute appropriate treatment, with the objective of getting better outcomes and better quality of life at reasonable cost."

The AMI Centre is Phase 1 of a larger cancer complex planned.

The cancer complex aims to serve as a hub not only for cutting-edge medical treatment but also scientific research and development as well as medical training.

When all three phases are completed by the end of 2019, the complex will take up approximately 35,000 sq ft of space in Biopolis, in Buona Vista.

SAM invested $100 million into the cancer complex, said Dr Djeng.

Said Mr de Jong: "It's a one-stop patient-centric hub where patients across the region can come for the best possible care; not just with technology, but the best possible medical staff."

Asia accounts for half of the global incidence of cancer, and regional cases are expected to increase from 6.1 million in 2008 to 10.6 million in 2030.

In Singapore alone, the disease accounted for 29.6 per cent of deaths in 2016. The lifetime risk for developing cancer is approximately one for every four to five people.

Other technologies at the AMI Centre include a new spectral CT machine, which provides better analysis of tissue and is able to remove metal implants from images for clearer visuals.

The centre also has a new MRI machine, which uses lighting, video and sound to calm patients and cuts the time required for a typical MRI scan by almost three-quarters from the usual 30 minutes.

Artificial intelligence will also be used for analysis and other applications, said Dr Djeng and Mr de Jong in a joint interview.

The centre's equipment also enables it to address cardiovascular and neurological disorders, which could see increasing incidence as the population in Singapore, and in the rest of the region, ages, said Dr Djeng.

In total, the Asia-Pacific is projected to have two-thirds of the world's elderly people by 2050.

"With increasing age comes increasing incidence of neurodegenerative diseases," said Dr Djeng, pointing to the need for advanced imaging solutions.

"At age 65, 5 per cent to 7 per cent will have neurodegenerative diseases. By age 71, this figure doubles, to about 10 per cent to 14 per cent. And by 90, nearly 40 per cent will have some form of neurodegenerative disease."

Dr Djeng said the use of technology to increase productivity and efficiency could actually drive down healthcare costs.

"What we are going to do is adapt technology to our advantage and at the same time make sure it is affordable."

Additional treatment technologies, such as radioisotope and proton beam therapies, will be progressively made available across the complex's second and third phases.

Construction of a four-storey-deep concrete bunker for the proton therapy machine is ongoing. It is being housed below ground for radiation protection and for structural reasons.