By Sufian Suderman, Senior Executive, Research Administration &
| Asst Prof Yeo Tsin Wen received the NMRC Clinician-Scientist Award for his study on dengue|
With daily announcements of new cases, it would seem that the Zika virus is the biggest mosquito-borne threat facing Singapore. But the numbers pale in comparison to the number of dengue cases. In just the first nine months of 2016, dengue cases have already crossed the 11,800 mark, exceeding the total for the whole of 2015, making dengue the most common and rapidly spreading mosquito-borne virus in Singapore.
Recognising the scourge of dengue and its threat to public health, LKCMedicine's first recipient of the National Medical Research Council's (NMRC) Clinician-Scientist Award (CSA) – Investigator (INV) category, Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases Yeo Tsin Wen intends to study the pathogenesis of dengue to find new targets to treat the life-threatening complications of severe dengue. He explained, “Dengue causes blood vessels to leak. This can lead to shock as there is not enough fluid running in the circulatory system.”
As part of his ongoing research into malaria, Asst Prof Yeo had been studying the mechanisms that cause blood vessel inflammation. Exploring whether the same mechanisms were at play in dengue, he embarked on a pilot study with colleagues at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s Institute of Infectious Diseases & Epidemiology. “Initially, I assumed that the mechanisms that cause blood vessels to leak due to malaria would be the same as dengue. However, I am seeing one or two things that are actually the opposite. This means that the pathogenesis of malaria and dengue are different, at least on the vascular level. Sometimes having a result contrary to your hypothesis can be good as this encourages researchers to revaluate initial assumptions and explore further.”
The malaria expert, who is relatively new to dengue research, was pleasantly surprised at being awarded a CSA. Reflecting on the key ingredients that made his proposal successful, he said, “Fortunately, my background in the pathogenesis of malaria allowed me to take the techniques that I used for studying malaria and apply them to study dengue. Besides my track record, I think my pilot studies helped in the success of my application.”
Asst Prof Yeo's research has the potential to be translated into clinical practice and provide the basis for new therapies to manage vascular leakage. He said, “While this won’t treat the dengue virus itself, I am trying to treat the complication of the dengue virus and hopefully this will reduce mortality resulting from dengue in some ways.”