February 2016 | Issue 22
Jump-starting collaborations to fight infectious diseases


S
howcasing junior faculty's work to foster new collaborations was the aim of the Frontiers in Infectious Diseases Research Conference, jointly organised by LKCMedicine and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) on 22 January.

Held at LKCMedicine's Experimental Medicine Building, the one-day conference was attended by a crowd of some 140 and featured an impressive line-up of infectious disease researchers from LKCMedicine, A*STAR, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The 11 speakers covered three critical areas in infectious diseases: Host-Pathogen Interactions, Diagnostics and Novel Therapeutics, and Strategies for Novel Treatments in Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobial Immunotherapy. Co-chaired by LKCMedicine Infection and Immunity Scientific Director Professor George Chandy and MIT Professor and SMART Principal Investigator Peter Dedon, the conference was a platform for researchers to mingle and make connections.

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MIT Professor and SMART Principal Investigator Prof Peter Dedon opens the conference​

Assistant Professor of Molecular Medicine Sanjay Chotirmall started the conference's first segment on Host-Pathogen Interaction with his presentation on cystic fibrosis. He elaborated how female hormones, such as oestrogen, can induce mucoid mutations, making the condition worse. Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases Yeo Tsin Wen was next, presenting on malaria. Giving an overview of the various strains of one of the most serious parasitic infections worldwide, he and his team are currently studying the microcirculation in the pathogenesis of severe malaria to understand its workings better.

The Diagnostics and Novel Therapeutics segment featured Associate Professor of Human and Microbial Genetics Eric Yap who shared more about his research on
melioidosis, more commonly known as soil disease. He elaborated on the need to develop more advanced and robust Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines and displayed a range of home-built personal PCR machines, which piqued the interest of many attendees. Assistant Professor Guan Xue Li was next, presenting on the novel tools she developed to study lipid metabolism and the growth of infectious diseases.

Rounding up the conference with the Strategies for Novel Treatments in Infectious Diseases and Antimicrobial Immunotherapy segment was Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases Kevin Pethe and Professor of Tissue Repair and Regeneration David Becker. Assoc Prof Pethe spoke about his work on new tuberculosis treatments. By studying the metabolism and bioenergetics of tuberculosis, he aims to identify the disease's vulnerabilities to develop new drugs. Prof Becker gave a presentation on the gap junction protein Cx43, whose role in wound-healing he and his team have esta
blished. His current work focuses on exploring the potential of the protein as a therapeutic target for blood vessel leakiness in dengue. Blood vessel leakiness is associated with dengue haemorrhagic fever, the most severe form of the disease.

After each segment, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions, which resulted in lively discussions. The conference concluded with Prof Dedon reminding everyone of the objective of the conference. He encouraged attendees to connect with one another and share what knowledge and resources LKCMedicine and SMART possess to spur new collaborations.