Scientists lauded for research on Asian genetics, light at nano-level

(Clockwise from top left) Professor Liu Jianjun, Professor Nikolay Zheludev, Associate Professor Chong Yidong and Associate Professor Zhang Baile. PHOTOS: PSTA

SINGAPORE - Research into the human genome has grown over the past decade but Asian populations remain under-studied.

Professor Liu Jianjun, 57, is trying to change that - and gaining recognition for it. Last Friday, he received the President's Science Award.

"My research on the genetics of Asian populations has revealed new insights into the biological mechanisms of diseases that are prominent in Asian populations," said Prof Liu, deputy executive director at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Genome Institute of Singapore.

This will help in the development of clinical tests to look for such Asian "biomarkers", which will allow doctors to diagnose patients early, and help prevent adverse reactions to drugs, he added.

Prof Liu was part of a team that discovered the specific risk strains of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which are associated with the development of nasopharyngeal carcinoma.

This nose cancer is found largely in populations in South China and South-east Asia, but is very rare in other regions.

The EBV risk strains can be used as biomarkers to identify individuals with high risk of developing the cancer, enabling early diagnosis and improved survival rates.

Prof Liu is one of two recipients of the President's Science Award this year.

The award is one of three prizes under the President's Science and Technology Awards - the highest recognition for exceptional research scientists and engineers here.

The other President's Science Award went to a trio from Nanyang Technological University for their research into topological nanophotonics - a field in the science of light that has emerged in the past decade.

Professor Nikolay Zheludev, 65, Associate Professor Chong Yidong, 40, and Associate Professor Zhang Baile, 39, found that manipulating light at the nano-level - an extremely small scale - could allow scientists to probe objects such as viruses that are too small to be seen under a conventional microscope.

Photonics, the science of generating, harnessing and manipulating light, is a critical enabling technology of the 21st century, underpinning numerous other technologies ranging from imaging to security and defence, the research team told The Straits Times.

"We expect that our research innovations will lead to higher-density optical chips, more robust and compact lasers, universal super-resolution optical imaging for applications across various technologies, such as those used in the life sciences and biomedical industries, as well as ultra-fast 6G telecommunications," they said.

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