NTU taps alumni donations for medical research

NTU medical school's molecular medicine don Dean Nizetic is developing therapies for ageing and diseases through the study of Down syndrome.
NTU medical school's molecular medicine don Dean Nizetic is developing therapies for ageing and diseases through the study of Down syndrome.PHOTO: NTU

It starts initiative after graduates express desire to support cause

For the first time, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) is wooing former students to help pay for healthcare research.

The option was made available late last year, after feedback from graduates that it was one of the meaningful causes they wanted to support.

All such funds donated by graduates will go towards the LKCMedicine Healthcare Research Fund, which was set up in November last year, said Professor Lee Sing Kong, vice-president (alumni and advancement) at NTU.

He said: "This is the first time alumni can contribute towards healthcare research."

"Even though this initiative is just two months old, response from our alumni has been encouraging so far," he added.

  • Examples of healthcare research at NTU

  • METABOLIC DISEASE

    Today, it is estimated that more than 400,000 people here have diabetes, with one in three not knowing that they have it.

    Researchers are working on finding out the impact of diabetes on heart diseases, and how diabetic mothers can affect their unborn children's health.

    INFECTIOUS DISEASE

    Collaborating with scientific institutions and universities both local and abroad, researchers are working on antimicrobial resistance, respiratory diseases and flaviviruses such as Zika and dengue.

    Professor Annelies Wilder-Smith, a clinician scientist, is leading a team to assess the efficacy of an influenza vaccine developed here.

    NEUROSCIENCE AND MENTAL HEALTH

    Changing lifestyles may be behind the increase in the incidence of mental health problems among children, adolescents and young adults. NTU scientists are studying early disease mechanisms and biomarkers in neurodegenerative diseases, stroke, and psychiatric disorders.

  • SOURCE: NTU

The school said that even though the option for alumni to contribute to research was introduced only late last year, almost 400 alumni have already pledged their support for research.

The school had sent out direct mailers to graduates last month canvassing support for its diabetes research programme.

Apart from diabetes, the fund will also support the study of other areas such as infectious diseases, and neuroscience and mental health (see sidebar, below).

Under infectious diseases, NTU researchers will look at understanding malaria and the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance.

Since 2012, the university's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine has received grants of more than $24.6 million for diabetes research alone.

"Competitive funding, government grants and industry support will continue to form the bulk of research funding for the university," Prof Lee added.

NTU alumnus Lim Thian Fatt, 51, who graduated from the university in 1989 with a Bachelor in Engineering (Civil and Structural), was one of those who stepped up.

On why he decided to donate, the engineer said: "There are many friends I know who suffer from diabetes... I feel strongly for diseases that still do not have a cure."

Over at the National University of Singapore, former students also have the option of donating to research. NUS does this by matching the donors' philanthropic interests with its fund-raising priorities, ranging from financial aid to research programmes and new educational initiatives.

Singapore Management University (SMU) currently does not seek funding for research from its alumni, said Professor Steven Miller, vice-provost (research) at SMU.

Its primary source of research funds is from competitive grants awarded by government agencies including the Ministry of Education and the National Research Foundation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2017, with the headline 'NTU taps alumni donations for medical research'. Print Edition | Subscribe