April 2016 | Issue 23
LKCMedicine welcomes pioneer cohort of PhD students




By Nicole Lim
Assistant Director,
Communications & External Relations

In January 2016, LKCMedicine welcomed the pioneer cohort of its new PhD by Research programme. The programme, which was launched in August 2015, was set up to attract top students from a wide range of disciplines and it did just that.

The four students in the pioneer cohort hail from a wide range of backgrounds, spanning from exercise science and medicine to biotech and chemistry. The most attractive feature for them? The programme’s unique features, including the opportunity to complete a jointly-supervised research project at LKCMedicine and Imperial College London. Member of the inaugural PhD cohort Lee Shuen Yee said, “What attracted me to this programme is that it is a joint programme with Imperial, it is new, and the curriculum is different from other PhD programmes.”

The wushu and mixed martial arts expert, who used to compete in international wushu competitions while at Victoria Junior College, has long been fascinated by the science behind elite athlete performance. She set out on her Sport and Exercise Science undergraduate degree at Loughborough University, UK, with the ambition of working for an organisation like Sport Singapore.

The pioneer cohort of LKCMedicine PhD students from left: Lee Shuen Yee, Atish Kizhakeyil, Katherine Martin, and Xu Xiaomeng

But after shadowing the head of performance of the Scottish gymnastics team, she found that working with elite athletes didn’t resonate with her as much as she had expected. “I really expected to like it. It was interesting, but I couldn’t see myself doing that as a career. Elite athletes are a very small population. The impact of exercise is so much greater if I could work with the general population,” said Shuen, who subsequently shadowed a cardiac rehabilitation team at a hospital in Wolverhampton, UK. After graduating, she followed this up with a three-month internship at Arthritis Research UK.

With her desire to apply the science of exercise to people’s health firmly lit, Shuen is now coming to the end of her first lab rotation and it has been a steep learning curve. Attached to Professor of Metabolic Medicine Walter Wahli’s team, she’s working on the connection between the body’s circadian clock and metabolic disease.

“Throughout my undergraduate studies, I’ve worked on the whole human, but here, I’m working on cells and transgenic mice, so I have a lot to learn and read about,” said Shuen, who was appointed Graduate Research Officer at NTU, a prestigious appointment reserved for some of the most promising and talented young Singaporean researchers at the university.

For her classmate, Xu Xiaomeng, who graduated with a Masters in Internal Medicine from Tianjin’s Nankai University in China, the clinical attachments are another pull factor. “Having clinical attachments is very novel and interesting,” said Xiaomeng.

While it had been her parents’ dream that she study medicine, Xiaomeng was inspired by the doctors who helped rescue and treat the victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. “Studying medicine made my parents happy and fulfilled my own desire to help people in need,” said Xiaomeng.

During the seven-year medicine programme, Xiaomeng also discovered a passion for research. She spent two years working on a research project at the Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing. “I worked on the biology of ageing in kidneys,” said Xiaomeng, something she found very satisfying.

With a public healthcare system that prizes clinician scientists, Xiaomeng decided to pursue her studies further by applying to LKCMedicine’s new PhD programme. She is now completing her first lab rotation with Professor of Molecular Medicine Dean Nizetic’s lab. “I’m learning a lot about new technologies used for gene editing, and it’s been very exciting so far. The team has also been great to work with,” said Xiaomeng.

It may only be three months into the programme, but both Shuen and Xiaomeng are excited by the many opportunities they have had. Summing up her experience so far, Shuen, whose second rotation is with Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology Fabian Lim, said, “It’s been fun. Scary, but fun.”

Xu Xiaomeng (left) and Lee Shuen Yee (right) find the innovative features of the programme a boon