Asia

Translating medical science from bench to bedside

SINGAPORE – Singapore celebrated the work of nine outstanding researchers at the President’s Science and Technology Awards this year, the highest form of recognition for research scientists and engineers in the country. One of them is renowned global leader in academic medicine and healthcare, Professor Ranga Krishnan. He received the nation’s highest honour for the field last Friday – the President’s Science and Technology Medal – for his role in advancing health and biomedical sciences research in Singapore.

Prof Ranga, who is now chairman of the Health Ministry’s National Medical Research Council, helped establish the emerging infectious diseases programme at Duke-NUS Medical School when he was dean from 2008 to 2015.

He is also a member of the SingHealth board, where he helped foster several important joint initiatives, such as the Academic Medicine Education Institute.

He also established strong links with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research to transfer technologies and build new ventures.

Much of his work was in the area of translational science – building on scientific research to create new therapies, medical procedures or diagnostics.

“My work has always been on tackling issues that beset patients and populations by building solutions… by translating research into useful products,” Prof Ranga said.

Prof Ranga’s work also extends well beyond the Republic.

He has held, and continues to hold, important leadership positions in the areas of medicine and healthcare systems, such as serving on the board of Community Health Systems in the United States.

Meanwhile, another award winner who has also excelled in translating science from bench to bedside is Professor Dario Campana, who received the President’s Technology Award.

Prof Campana’s research focused on using immune cells to treat cancer.

T cells – a type of white blood cell – equipped with a special chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) designed by Prof Campana’s team produced remarkable results when given to patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common cancer in children.

These CAR-T cells latch onto leukaemic cells, killing them and propagating, hence mounting a powerful anti-leukaemic response.

Clinical trials so far have showed that blood T cells that are extracted from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia patients, modified with the CAR and then reinfused back into patients could cure the cancer even when all other therapies have failed.

Besides acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, CAR-T cells have been proven to be useful in treating blood cancers lymphoma and myeloma, and may also benefit patients with other forms of cancer in the future.

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Winners of the President’s Science and Technology Awards 2020

President’s Science and Technology Medal

Professor Ranga Krishnan

President’s Science Award

Professor Liu Jianjun

Professor Nikolay Zheludev, Associate Professor Chong Yidong and Associate Professor Zhang Baile

President’s Technology Award

Professor Dario Campana

Young Scientist Award

Dr Chew Wei Leong 

Assistant Professor John Ho

Dr Tan Si Hui

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