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INSIDE INDUSTRY
A*STAR, NSC, NTU collaborate to advance skin research
Singapore is committing close to S$100 million to skin research, with the announcement of the Skin Research Institute of Singapore (SRIS) today. A collaboration between the Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR), National Skin Centre (NSC) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the SRIS will harness the expertise of scientists, clinicians and engineers to foster and conduct high impact, inter-disciplinary skin research designed to translate into improved health outcomes and quality of life.

One in three people worldwide suffers from a skin disorder, presenting unmet demands for new treatments in this field. There are also significant differences between how skin diseases present in Asian and Western populations, as well as in how these respond to treatment. With its high-quality biomedical and translational research, and its multi-ethnic population, Singapore is uniquely positioned to conduct research on skin conditions. Key research areas for the Institute will include eczema, allergy and inflammation, pigmentary disorders, wound healing, hair conditions and skin ageing. The research approaches will take advantage of inter-disciplinary and innovative emerging technologies.

“The Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) at A*STAR has a rich background in collaborative skin biology research that has laid the foundation for the Skin Research Institute of Singapore to be set up,” said Prof Birgit Lane, Executive Director of IMB. “We are looking forward to combining our skills with those of our partners in this project to expand skin research in Singapore and build a research centre of excellence here which will have worldwide impact.”

The Institute will build on the strengths of its founding members – A*STAR, NSC and NTU. Each is a world-class leader in its respective fields of basic, clinical and bioengineering research, and collectively, the partners will bring together their expertise in these fields to provide a holistic approach to translational research on skin.

A*STAR’s strengths in discovery and translational science will enable a deeper understanding of the cellular and molecular basis of various skin diseases, as well as observed differences between different skin types. NTU together with its Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine will offer expertise in multi-disciplinary research fields including bioengineering, nanotechnology innovation, materials science to develop applications such as skin imaging and skin-mimetic materials.

“Set to be a world-class skin research institute, we are proud to play a key role in this joint initiative to position Singapore as an international leader in skin research, education and treatment,” said NTU Provost, Professor Freddy Boey. “This endeavour represents ‘future healthcare’ and ‘innovation’, two of our Five Peaks of Excellence, which are areas of research expertise where NTU seeks to make its global mark by 2015. With our experienced top-notch team of experts at the forefront of inter-disciplinary research and state-of-the-art research facilities, NTU is confident that we can make an impactful contribution to this partnership in our areas of strengths including dermatology, nanomedicine and materials science.”

NSC will provide clinical expertise which will help transform research findings into medical treatments. “The Skin Research Institute of Singapore is the joint commitment from the three parties to establish and nurture a world-class dermatology research programme in Singapore. SRIS will leverage on the strengths of the three organisations viz. basic science, bioengineering, dermatology clinical expertise, as springboards for this endeavor,” said Professor Roy Chan, Director, NSC. “NSC is committed to building the SRIS, we have enhanced our programmes to train clinician researchers, recruit research manpower, and encourage clinicians to devote more time and energy in research. It is hoped that the SRIS will yield new insights and discoveries that will lead to better therapies and improve the quality of life of patients afflicted by a variety of skin diseases.”

As part of the initiative to stimulate skin research here, the partnership will be launching a joint Thematic Skin Research Grant call later this year. This will serve to catalyse collaborations in skin research between different institutions in Singapore. A joint skin workshop will also be held to allow for matchmaking of participants’ research interests. The Clinical Trials unit will be strengthened and will conduct clinical trials for skin conditions and to serve as the interface to develop and test new drugs, devices or diagnostic tools and technology in clinical proof-of-concept studies. This unit will also build up a database of different skin phenotypes as well as healthy skin of different Asian ethnic groups, which could be used for studies ranging from genetic and epidemiologic studies to consumer product testing.

Dr Benjamin Seet, Executive Director of the Biomedical Research Council at A*STAR, said, “Singapore provides an ideal location for companies to undertake research and product development to meet the needs of Asia’s diverse consumers. Besides working with pharmaceutical companies, our researchers are currently working with some of the world's largest personal care companies, a number which have expanded their R&D activities here. The Procter & Gamble Singapore Innovation Centre, for example, will provide more than 500 research jobs when it is completed early next year. We are fully committed to placing Singapore at the forefront of research in skin biology and related fields, to continue to enhance the proposition for companies to locate their research activities here.”

All three institutions will also contribute towards building knowledge and manpower capabilities in skin research. Under the partnership, A*STAR and NTU will introduce PhD programmes for skin biology. NSC and the National Healthcare Group will develop research tracks for doctors on the dermatology residency programmes. This will feed into the pipeline of post-doctorate graduates, dermatology specialists and clinician-scientists.

“Healthcare is ever-evolving and becoming increasingly more complex. We recognise that doctors are not able to do everything alone. To provide quality healthcare, we need multi-disciplinary teams – from public, private and people sectors - working together to improve treatment methods for the benefit of our patients,” said Professor Chee Yam Cheng, Group CEO, NHG. “This partnership builds on several years of research collaboration and underscores our common desire to accelerate skin research through the use of pioneering technology and innovation, to ultimately create better outcomes for our patients.”

The SRIS will eventually be given purpose-built space next to NSC at the NTU Novena Campus at Health City Novena on Mandalay Road. This presents a unique opportunity to co-locate the basic and clinical research capabilities that have been seeded now and over the next few years to anchor skin research as a key pillar of innovation.

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