The Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC) - a $20 million joint-venture by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and National University Health Systems (NUHS) - is the most comprehensive centre in Asia that will conduct nutritional studies to understand the causes of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and develop products and formulate diets that can reduce the risks of these diseases. CNRC will also conduct studies in research areas such as nutrition in women, children and the elderly, and body weight control.
As the first centre in Asia to have under-one-roof capabilities to perform research across the food chain and at all levels from the cellular level to whole-body nutrition, the CNRC will play an integral role in developing Singapore as a major hub for food and nutrition research.
Having developed a strong base of R&D capabilities, Singapore is already home to some of the world's largest nutrition companies who have set up R&D centres here to access Asian markets by tapping on Singapore's access to various ethnicities. Since CNRC's inception in late 2012, several collaborative projects with various food & nutrition companies have already been clinched. Our industry partners include BENEO Asia Pacific, Danone, DSM, Nestle and Mead Johnson.
Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman A*STAR said, "A*STAR, working closely with our partners from NUS and NUHS and the wider research community, has made Singapore an attractive and competitive location for food and nutrition research. Last week, we announced a new partnership with the largest food and nutrition company in the world, Nestle. This new research collaboration will bring together capabilities and expertise from both sides in a complementary way to design better products for the consumers."
Besides having a network of industry contacts and collaborations, CNRC has a range of important academic collaborators, such as Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS), and Monell Chemical Senses Center - the world's only independent, non-profit scientific institute dedicated to sensory science (particularly for taste and smell).
Other notable academic collaborators include the EpiGen Consortium, which focuses on discovering mechanisms underlying the interaction between the environmental factors and genetic processes which influence health and the risk of disease across the life-course.
In addition, the centre will leverage upon existing partnerships between A*STAR and NUHS, such as the Singapore Centre for Nutritional Sciences, Metabolic Diseases, and Human Development (SiNMeD) initiative. This enables interdisciplinary research in the basic sciences as well as clinical studies in human nutrition. This encompasses the formulation of food ingredients, to diet interactions that will ultimately affect health outcomes, food policies, and food manufacturing practices.
Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng, Founding Director of SiNMeD, said, "One of the approaches we are taking in SiNMeD is to see how we can modify factors like pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and early life nutrition and lifestyle to promote health and prevent disease, especially non-communicable diseases like obesity and diabetes. The CNRC will bring new precision to our understanding of how food can be used for good."
The prevalence of diabetes in the adult population in Singapore has increased from 9% in 1998 to 11.3% in 2010, while that for obesity has increased from 6% to 10.8%. These studies could thus impact health outcomes and aid policy-makers in the challenges they face in reversing obesity and other metabolic diseases.
The cumulative cost of all non-infectious diseases, for which obesity is a leading risk factor, was estimated to be about US$1.4 trillion in 2010. It is important to reduce economic costs through promoting a change in eating habits, hence enhancing nutrition in food systems.
Research on the nutritional needs and preferences of Asians is currently lacking. CNRC aims to fill this gap by applying cutting-edge nutritional science to deliver new and innovative solutions catered to the Asian population, to enhance health and well-being.
Due to prevalence of obesity and Type II diabetes in Singapore and the region, one of major areas CNRC will concentrate its research efforts on these themes, focusing on how appetite is controlled, and how diets can be optimized to maximize weight loss and weight maintenance. Some products currently in development include foods that will enable diabetics to lower their blood glucose, and specialized foods for the elderly to enhance cognition and palatability.
Professor Jeyakumar Henry, Director of CNRC, said, "The CNRC is a one-stop research centre that applies state-of-the-art technology to address contemporary nutritional issues. I am confident that the research and technological expertise that we have here will provide deep and clear dietary solutions to nutritional problems amongst Asians."
CNRC is helmed by Professor Jeyakumar Henry, along with A/P Melvin Leow Khee Shing, who is the Deputy Director of CNRC. A Steering Committee has also been put together to set the overall direction and strategy of CNRC (See http://bit.ly/1eeUUYl). CNRC will also be a magnet for attracting the best young trainees and established nutritionists interested in nutritional science, and a platform for training up and developing a talented workforce in this field. There are plans to offer a postgraduate programme (PhD) in Nutritional Sciences, with CNRC being the core facility in this programme.
Said Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Chairman, NUHS, "The CNRC brings together researchers across a broad spectrum of disciplines from the basic sciences in A*STAR and NUS, to clinical nutrition and medicine in NUHS. Together with the state-of-the-art infrastructure, this would enhance the translation of basic science discoveries into novel and useful clinical applications for the improvement of health, and the prevention of disease and medical complications. The key is to grow highly competitive clinical research in nutritional science and to build the nutrition and food industries in Singapore."
The CNRC is fully-equipped with facilities to conduct its nutritional studies. One of this is a whole-body calorimeter (detailed at http://bit.ly/1eeUUYl), which measures energy intake and output of an individual. The Centre is the first in Asia to have two such whole-body calorimeters, where an individual can live and carry out all normal daily activities in the comfort of a room while their energy expenditure is being continually measured. Studying an individual's detailed energy expenditure could provide better understanding of how food and physical activity affect one's ability to maintain body weight. Changes in metabolic function could also be monitored to uncover relationships with metabolic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, thus potentially allowing for the development of new treatments and drugs for these metabolic disorders.
Other facilities in the Centre include a laboratory for chemical analysis of food and a dedicated product development kitchen, booths for sensory analysis of food as well as for computer-based cognitive testing of subjects, and laser body imaging for volume determination (See http://bit.ly/1eeUUYl).