April 2014 | ISSUE 11
Research update

By Research Administration & Support Services Team

Over the past two years, research at LKCMedicine has been building momentum with the sprouting of research clusters and activities across the island at the Research Techno Plaza (RTP) on NTU’s Yunnan Garden Campus, Proteos at Biopolis and the Academia at Singapore General Hospital. New faculty of the School have established their interim laboratories at these locations, tapping into the existing research infrastructure, space and animal facility resources at NTU, A*STAR and SingHealth, before the new Experimental Medicine and Clinical Sciences Buildings are completed.

In addition to the standard wet laboratories, we have established procedure rooms, tissue/bacterial culture laboratories, and optics/dry laboratories at these locations to support our research activities. To support research activities in histopathology, we have set up the biobank/histopathology core and shared facility at the interim laboratories at RTP. Complementing the biobank, we have the complete histopathology facility in close proximity to deliver high quality tissue processing, sectioning, staining and image analysis.  

In the pipeline are plans led by Metabolic Medicine Research Programme Director Professor Bernhard Boehm to establish a joint NTU/National Healthcare Group (NHG) Diabetes BioBank to perform sequential sampling of biological material and clinical data for medical-scientific research and diagnostic/therapeutic purposes for the study of a common chronic metabolic disease.

To support the development of the strategic research in pancreatic islet biology, we have established the world’s first two-photon microscope scientific core facility, capable of imaging islets grafted in the anterior chamber of the eye of non-human primates. Led by Visiting Professor Per-Olof Berggren, this state-of-the-art system was commissioned in December 2013. A world first, the system provides the School, NTU and Singapore with the capability to study pancreatic signal transduction in a dynamic in vivo environment, with the aim of supporting the development of therapeutics for metabolic diseases.

While building up the research laboratories, our faculty, particularly Assistant Dean for Phase One of the curriculum Professor Michael Ferenczi and Associate Professor Wang Xiaomeng, have been successful in competitive grant applications, winning a total grant value of S$1.5m from the recent MOE Tier One and Tier Two grant calls.

Published output from LKCMedicine faculty members has been prolific, with 34 papers including affiliation to the School published to date in international journals. A recent novel finding from the laboratories of Visiting Professor Sven Pettersson and Professor of Metabolic Diseases Walter Wahli entitled “Absence of Intestinal PPARγ Aggravates Acute Infectious Colitis in Mice through a Lipocalin-2–Dependent Pathway” was published in PLOS Pathogen.

The laboratory of Professor of Neuroscience and Mental Health George Augustine recently demonstrated the novel application of optogenetic technology to the study of synaptic inhibition. These findings were described in a paper entitled “Visualisation of Synaptic Inhibition with an Optogenetic Sensor Developed by Cell-Free Protein Engineering Automation” published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Professor of Structural Biology Daniela Rhodes FRS, who holds a joint appointment with the School of Biological Sciences, is performing cutting-edge research in structural biology, with two recent publications in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, entitled “Structure of active dimeric human telomerase” and “The N-terminal acetylation of Sir3 stabilises its binding to the nucleosome core particle”.

The laboratory of Professor of Developmental Biology Philip Ingham FRS contributed to a publication entitled “Structure and function of the Smoothened extracellular domain in vertebrate Hedgehog signalling” in the recently launched open-access journal eLife, arising from a collaboration with groups at Stanford and Oxford Universities.

Other notable research developments include the activities led by Professor of Infectious Diseases Annelies Wilder-Smith, who is also Principal Investigator of DengueTools. DengueTools is an international research consortium which investigates the air-travel interconnectivity of travellers with dengue returning from Angola in South West Africa to six countries on four continents.

Led by Visiting Professor Christer Halldin, the Translational Neuroimaging (PET) Platform achieved a first in Singapore – synthesis and manufacture of state-of-the-art radioligands [11C]raclopride,  [18F]FEPE2I, [11C]PBR28 through leveraging on the cyclotron and hot cell facilities at Singapore RadioPharmaceuticals; and subsequent pre-clinical PET imaging on animal models in collaboration with SingHeath’s Experimental Medicine Centre.

Inaugural Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Hou Han Wei

We recently opened applications for the 2014 LKCMedicine Postdoctoral Fellowship; the inaugural one launched last year was won by Dr Hou Han Wei. Dr Hou undertook postdoctoral training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and brings his expertise in microfluidics/“organ on a chip” technologies to the School, with the potential for collaborations between LKCMedicine and other research groups at NTU.

Meanwhile, LKCMedicine continued to play its part in the Skin Research Institute of Singapore (SRIS), established last year by NTU in collaboration with A*STAR and the National Skin Centre. This tripartite partnership aims to integrate basic and applied research with the needs and expertise of the clinical communities. It is envisaged that the SRIS will form interdisciplinary teams to address new frontiers in skin research with the aim of developing innovative technologies and therapies in Singapore.

From left to right: LKCMedicine Lecture Series, LKCMedicine/NTU-NHG Research Seminar

Our signature LKCMedicine Lecture Series continued to attract interest from the local research and healthcare community keen on interdisciplinary collaborations. The series has become a healthy platform for new faculty to share their research interests and expertise with local researchers, clinicians and clinician scientists. Similarly, the LKCMedicine Brown Bag Seminars rolled out in September 2013 have been generating healthy attendance. Held at the School of Biological Sciences, these seminars provide an opportunity for postdoctoral researchers and graduate students to come together and share their latest scientific results.

The LKCMedicine/NTU-NHG Research Seminar launched in November last year also proved successful. This seminar was started to promote collaborative research with NHG clinicians. We held the second edition in February at our Lecture Theatre. Further joint seminars will be rolled out this year.

Newly appointed LKCMedicine Vice-Dean for Research, Prof Ingham

This year, we look forward to the leadership of Prof Ingham who is our newly appointed LKCMedicine Vice-Dean for Research. Prof Ingham is world-renowned in the field of developmental genetics for his pioneering analyses of the Hedgehog signalling pathway, studies that have laid the foundation for the development of novel anti-cancer drugs as well as cell replacement therapies. Prof Ingham’s contributions were recently recognised through the award of the 2014 Waddington Medal by the British Society for Developmental Biology.