February 2016 | Issue 22


$2 million grant scheme launched to develop healthcare innovations

To boost interdisciplinary research that leads to innovation in patient care, NTU and SingHealth announced a new five-year research tie-up on 21 January.

Signed at the inaugural SingHealth Duke-NUS Research Day, the agreement facilitates co-operation between SingHealth and NTU in areas of mutual interest in education and research, ranging from undergraduate and graduate study to joint research activities and conferences, activities and initiatives that will also include the two affiliated medical schools, LKCMedicine and Duke-NUS.

SingHealth and NTU sign a Memorandum of Understanding covering areas of mutual interest in education and research

As a first step under this new agreement, the parties have allocated $2 million to fund six joint research projects of up to $300,000 each. The funding will enable NTU scientists and SingHealth clinicians to develop practical healthcare solutions, such as biomedical devices, novel drugs and tools to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. Focusing on nationally-relevant health conditions, the six projects will focus on areas of need including diabetes, eye diseases, infectious diseases, skin and plastic surgery, medical technology, and ageing.

SingHealth Group CEO Professor Ivy Ng said, "The NTU-SingHealth partnership is highly complementary and will facilitate research from bench to bedside more seamlessly. Our clinicians can highlight areas in clinical care that could potentially be improved by the attention of engineers and scientists."

NTU President Professor Bertil Andersson added that the partnership taps on the deep engineering and life sciences expertise at NTU, including new life sciences techniques used in emerging research areas like phenomics and genomics.

NTU Assoc Prof Joachim Loo (right) and SingHealth Assoc Prof Lim Kah Leong (left) are already collaborating to develop a new nanomedicine for Parkinson's disease

"NTU has a track record of working with hospitals to do research that will benefit patients, and today's partnership with SingHealth is an expansion of our previous successful collaboration," said Prof Andersson.

The six projects, which have yet to be awarded, are just the latest in a long line of innovations that the two institutions have been working on. For example, NTU's School of Materials Science and Engineering is working with the National Neuroscience Institute and the Singapore National Eye Centre on two innovations that, if successfully commercialised, will help to improve patient care.

The former has resulted in the development of a pill that releases a cocktail of the three standard drugs used
to treat Parkinson's disease slowly over a 24-hour period, doing away with complicated daily treatment regimes. It is now being tested in animal models at the National Neuroscience Institute.

The latter has led to the development of a new surgical tool for use in corneal transplant surgeries. Currently
in its prototype phase, the piezo-electric cutting tool produces vibrations in its blunt blade, which can split and separate a specific layer of the cornea, making the procedure more accurate, smoother and safer.

Other innovations are as far developed as the clinical testing phase. Prof Andersson said, "Already, some of our research breakthroughs are being tested with our partners in SingHealth." These include time-released nanodrugs that eliminate the need for daily eye drops for glaucoma patients and drug-eluting stents that can prevent blood clots while delivering medicine to the right part of the body.

Others still, are already improving patients' lives. The Mona Lisa Robot, the result of a collaboration between SGH urologists and NTU engineers, is already commercially available and used in hospitals here. It makes detection of prostate cancer safer and more accurate. The invention helps doctors achieve a 90 per cent accuracy rate in their biopsy tests, a jump from the previous 70 per cent. Prof Ng said, "The robot also reduces the risk of infection from five per cent to one per cent, making screening much safer for patients."

With each institution bringing its unique expertise to the team, both SingHealth and NTU hope working together will produce tangible outcomes that benefit patients.