Study to identify genetic risk of kidney diseases

Members of the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, meeting on Friday afternoon (July 21) to discuss the progress made on the RIE2020 plan launched in 2016.
Members of the 10th Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council (RIEC), chaired by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, meeting on Friday afternoon (July 21) to discuss the progress made on the RIE2020 plan launched in 2016.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

$25m research effort aimed at spotting diabetic patients at risk so they can be treated earlier

A study to determine the genetic risk of kidney diseases caused by diabetes is currently under way by local researchers. The results could help doctors screen patients more effectively and give them early treatment.

The $25 million research study is the latest programme to be funded under the health and biomedical sciences domain of the $19 billion Research, Innovation and Enterprise (RIE) 2020 plan.

It aims to determine the underlying genes and process of how kidney diseases caused by diabetes develop. Patients at risk can then be identified and treated earlier.

The research brings together clinicians and scientists working on diabetic renal disease and related diseases.

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, deputy director of medical services at the Health Ministry's health services group, said this diabetes research was singled out due to the war against diabetes launched last year.

More than 11 per cent of adults here aged 18 to 69 years are diabetic, with a higher incidence among those 70 years and older.

Other healthcare and medical research drawing funds from the RIE2020 include areas such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurological and sense disorders, and infectious diseases.

Other healthcare and medical research drawing funds from the RIE2020 include areas such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neuorological and sense disorders, and infectious diseases. Identifying the genes and biomarkers of those prone to kidney diseases would be the first step in designing tests that can be used to predict if a patient has a higher risk of getting this condition.

  • 2 model factories coming up

  • Developments in two other domains under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan - advanced manufacturing and engineering, and the services and digital economy - revolve around more private-public partnerships.

    The Agency for Science, Technology and Research will open two model factories to help drive innovation, knowledge transfer and adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies. Such technologies include the industrial Internet of Things, automation and robotics, and 3D-printing.

    The Model Factory@SIMTech, which is tailored for small and medium-sized enterprises, will be launched later this year. Meanwhile, the Model Factory at the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre will open in the first quarter of next year, and is targeted at multinational companies. These factories will let firms sample advanced technologies before deciding if they want to use them in their operations.

    There will also be more collaboration in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), following the launch of a new AI consortium in May.

    AI.SG, which was launched by Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, aims to use AI and data to solve national challenges in areas such as city management, healthcare and finance.

    In order to allow for better collaboration between researchers and industry partners, a new AI.SG Makerspace will be set up at the Smart Nation Research Building at the National University of Singapore in January.

    There, researchers and private-sector partners can collaborate on, interact with and adopt AI-powered tools generated by AI.SG.

    Lester Hio

Identifying the genes and biomarkers of those prone to kidney diseases would be the first step in designing tests that can be used to predict if a patient has a higher risk of getting this condition.

"This allows us to be more targeted and focused when it comes to screening people," said Prof Mak. "If we can be a little more targeted, more focused, then perhaps we can improve our ability to detect those with diabetes in a more cost-effective fashion."

The research will also enable patients at risk of kidney failure caused by diabetes to be identified and get treatment earlier.

"The disease may progress very fast, and patients can develop complications," said Prof Mak. "If we can diagnose what puts them at risk, we can also identify ways of helping them control their diabetes better and earlier, to prevent them from developing complications."

New tools will also be available to Singaporeans to help assess their risk of undiagnosed diabetes.

This can be done through a new diabetes risk assessment tool, which will be made available on the HealthHub online portal and app from this September onwards. This tool will also indicate whether they should go for diabetes screening.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Study to identify genetic risk of kidney diseases'. Print Edition | Subscribe