Young lab technician who proved wastewater testing could be used to detect dengue wins award

Mr Franciscus Chandra, 24, received the "Rookie Rockstar" award at the Asian Scientist Lab Tech of the Year event on Friday (March 18). ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

SINGAPORE - A year after he graduated in 2020, Mr Franciscus Chandra published a research paper that proved wastewater surveillance could be used to detect the presence of vector-borne diseases like dengue, zika and yellow fever.

Wastewater testing proved useful in also detecting traces of the Sars-CoV-2 virus and determining the extent of disease spread in Singapore.

On Friday (March 18), the 24-year-old laboratory technician at Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre received the "Rookie Rockstar" award at the Asian Scientist Lab Tech of the Year event.

The award includes $500 cash.

The event, organised by Asian Scientist Magazine and held at Gardens by the Bay, honoured 15 laboratory technicians who have made waves in Singapore's research and innovation ecosystem.

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan, who was guest of honour, said lab technicians are unsung heroes.

"Laboratory technicians work closely with biochemists and microbiologists to develop drugs and vaccines to prevent and treat diseases, including Covid-19," he added.

Clinicians also rely on laboratories to provide timely, accurate and reliable results to support their clinical diagnosis and decisions, said Mr Tan.

Five of the lab technicians were on Friday given a special Covid-19 Hero Award by Mirxes, a diagnostics company based in Singapore.

They each received a $500 cash prize.

Dr Zhou Lihan, co-founder and chief executive of Mirxes, told The Straits Times his company wanted to celebrate the work of lab technicians who were involved in research innovation and in lab testing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He noted that Singapore has been able to ramp up diagnostic capabilities from a few thousand polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests a day to around 40,000 at its peak, thanks to lab technicians who worked around the clock.

Dr Juliana Chan, chief executive of Wildtype Media Group and publisher of Asian Scientist Magazine, said all the nominees were not just inspiring for their contributions in the lab but also their outstanding qualities such as creativity and leadership.

"These (qualities) are no doubt vital to the continued advancement of research and innovation," she added.

Mr Chandra, who has since contributed to a number of other studies, was also able to prove that machine learning can determine the number of people in a particular catchment or zone infected with Covid-19.

This could allow for a more precise understanding of the extent of disease spread.

"I'm very thankful for my mentors in giving me the courage to take up certain projects, and to give me constructive criticisms and feedback," he said.

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