The President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) are the highest honours conferred upon research scientists and engineers in Singapore whose achievements in science and technology have resulted in significant economic or societal benefits for the country. The winners were picked by a distinguished panel of representatives from industry, academia and research.
President’s Science Award recipients
For their outstanding research on clinical biomarkers, novel models and therapeutics for Parkinson disease
Prof Tan Eng King
Senior Consultant, Deputy Medical Director (Academic Affairs), & Director, Research, National Neuroscience Institute
Professor, Programme in Neuroscience & Behavioural Disorders, Duke-NUS Medical School
Academic Vice Chair (Research), Singhealth Duke-NUS Neuroscience Academic Clinical Programme
Assoc Prof Lim Kah Leong
Assoc Prof, Department of Physiology, National University of Singapore
Visiting Lead, Strategic Alliances, National Neuroscience Institute
Associate Professor, Programme in Neuroscience & Behavioural Disorders, Duke-NUS Medical School
Prof Ng Huck Hui
Executive Director, GIS, A*STAR
Assoc Prof Louis Tan
Senior Consultant, Department of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute
Deputy Director, Research, National Neuroscience Institute
Deputy Vice Chair (Research), Singhealth Duke-NUS Neuroscience Academic Clinical
The team is recognised for their outstanding contributions in identifying clinical biomarkers, and developing novel models and therapeutics for advancing the understanding and management of Parkinson disease (PD) over the last 5 years. Their research has facilitated partnerships with industry, clinical and research institutions, leading to enhanced healthcare policies that support improved clinical care for PD patients in Singapore. The team’s work exemplifies the concept and significance of actualising ‘bench to bedside”, from research endeavours to clinical outcomes.
The team created the world’s first three dimensional midbrain organoid that produces neuromelanin, a characteristic hallmark found only in human brains. Next, they developed PD midbrain models that harbour biomarkers and genes identified from patients.
Their hallmark research culminated in the discovery of a direct pathophysiologic connection between two major proteins that are involved in both Alzheimer’s disease (amyloid precursor protein) and PD (lecucine rich repeat kinase 2). This link explained why these two most common neurodegenerative conditions sometimes coexist in the same patient. The novel finding has led to the experimental trial of a clinical grade drug in the human organoid model for its future evaluation in clinical trials.
In essence, the team’s research has led to new treatment guidelines for PD patients, the formulation of improved healthcare policies and the development of an authentic human midbrain model, redefining the standard of care globally. The innovative scientific insights harvested from clinical disease biomarkers, serve as a crucial preclinical platform to test newly discovered drug targets, changing the landscape for the treatment and management of Parkinson’s disease.
President’s Technology Award recipient
For advancing research in human genetics and cardiovascular disease
Prof Stuart Cook
Tanoto Foundation Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine
Director, National Heart Research Institute Singapore (NHRIS)
Senior Consultant, National Heart Centre Singapore
Professor, Programme in Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders, Duke-NUS
In 2012, Professor Cook and his collaborators discovered that mutations in titin, the biggest human gene, cause heart muscle weakness in Caucasian populations. Prof Cook then went on to lead a genetic study in Singapore to find out whether mutations in the same gene are responsible for the illness in Asians as well.
The titin mutation was found to be responsible for up to a quarter of cases in Singaporean-Asian populations. This discovery catalysed the development of a sequencing assay which, in collaboration with genomics company Illumina, Prof Cook and his group translated into a commercially-available, next-generation test kit with customised software to aid in the interpretation of genetic results. Marketed as the TruSight Cardio Sequencing Kit, the assay is used to screen many thousands of patients each year, for various gene mutations linked to inherited heart conditions, in laboratories around the world. Efforts to discover the genetic causes of inherited heart conditions — much like the search for a genetic diagnosis in other diseases — have been stymied by the limitations of tests focused on single genes, or just a handful of targets. TruSight Cardio, however has a high depth and uniformity of coverage for its price point – the assay tests for 174 genes known to be associated with 17 cardiac conditions, including cardiomyopathies, arrhythmias, and aortopathies, covering all causal variants in these genes with a demonstrated link to inherited cardiac conditions.
These genes were selected by researchers at the NHCS and Imperial College of London, and include those known to be associated with hereditary heart disease, as well as emerging genes found in academic literature in the field.