Three young researchers recognised for scientific endeavours

President Halimah Yacob speaking with the winners of the Young Scientist Award Chew Wei Leong (third left), John Ho (third right) and Dr Tan Si Hui (second right), on Dec 18, 2020.
President Halimah Yacob speaking with the winners of the Young Scientist Award Chew Wei Leong (third left), John Ho (third right) and Dr Tan Si Hui (second right), on Dec 18, 2020.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Three young researchers working in the areas of medical technology, gene therapy and cancer biology were recognised last Friday for their scientific endeavours.

They received the Young Scientist Award from Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing at the Istana.

Organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), the award recognises the accomplishments of researchers under 35 who have shown strong potential to be world-class experts in their chosen fields.

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR JOHN HO, 31


PHOTO: PSTA

After smartphones and smart watches, National University of Singapore's (NUS) Assistant Professor John Ho believes smart clothing could be the next game changer.

He is part of a team that developed a smartphone-powered suit that is able to track a person's temperature, posture and movements, potentially helping clinicians better understand patients who face chronic back pain and, in turn, provide insights for diagnosis and treatment.

During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, Prof Ho, who is principal investigator at the NUS Institute for Health Innovation and Technology, had also leveraged wireless medical technology to enhance diagnosis of possible infections in foreign worker dormitories.

One possible symptom of Covid-19 is low blood oxygen. The system developed by Prof Ho and his colleagues utilises Bluetooth-enabled pulse oximeters to measure blood oxygen levels, and can compile pulse oximeter readings from thousands of individuals neatly on a dashboard.

Prof Ho said: "Wireless healthcare technologies have shown enormous promise in transforming the way that we manage chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity - the next step will be to address challenges like rigorous clinical tests and how to guarantee patient privacy."

DR CHEW WEI LEONG, 35


PHOTO: PSTA

Dr Chew Wei Leong, a senior research scientist at A*Star's Genome Institute of Singapore, leveraged a gene-editing tool known as Crispr-Cas, which works like genetic scissors, potentially snipping out unwanted segments of human genetic material.

"Unlike traditional medicines such as small-molecule drugs that we take as pills, these Crispr-based nucleic acid therapeutics go straight to the DNA and perform molecular surgery on it," Dr Chew said.

"This means that Crispr-Cas edits our genes and permanently fixes the genetic diseases at the root causes."

He added: "Our work opens up treatment avenues to diseases that affect multiple organs."

Dr Chew's team is now working on how to make the process safer. "This is important because our work will reduce the severe risks of undesired immune reactions to these potent medicines," he added.

DR TAN SI HUI, 35


PHOTO: PSTA

Dr Tan Si Hui, a cancer biologist, wants to use her expertise and knowledge to develop novel cancer treatments.

Dr Tan, who previously worked at A*Star, had been part of a team which made a breakthrough discovery that identifies and isolates stem cells leading to stomach cancer.

The protein aquaporin-5 (AQP5), which is produced by stomach stem cells, can be used as a biological marker for developing treatments for diseased and cancerous stomachs.

Dr Tan, who now heads the research team at local biotechnology start-up Cargene Therapeutics, said: "I hope to make an impact on patients by developing drugs or platforms that can restore their health, either through more efficacious treatments or more accurate therapeutic recommendations."