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A*STAR and NUS Launch Joint Centre

Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, October 10, 2013
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The S$148 million centre will study the role of nutrition and early development in health and disease in Asia.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) and A*STAR will be jointly establishing the S$148 million Singapore Centre for Nutritional Sciences, Metabolic Diseases, and Human Development (SiNMeD). This collaboration between the NUS's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (YLLSoM) and A*STAR's Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS) is set to become the leading centre in Asia for research in the nexus between nutritional sciences, metabolic diseases and human development.

SiNMeD will focus on fundamental, clinical and translational research to understand the role of nutrition and early development in the onset and progression of obesity and metabolic diseases like diabetes. Research on the nutritional needs of Asians is lacking and this will be a special focus of the programme. The key research programmes are in early development which will focus on mother and infant nutrition, growth and developmental epigenetics; nutritional sciences which aim to develop strategies for optimal nutrition; and metabolic diseases which will study obesity and insulin resistance in Asians. This is significant to Singapore as it addresses the rising incidence of obesity and diabetes in an Asian context, with up to 25% of the Singapore adult population projected to have type 2 diabetes by 2025.

These research programmes build on existing collaborations, which have already attracted significant investments from major food and nutrition companies who recognise the value of research to develop innovative products for their consumers. SiNMeD's research programmes will expand on the success of the unique and internationally recognised GUSTO birth cohort study, as well as the EpiGen consortium - an international alliance of the world's leading epigenetics researchers.

SiNMeD will be the focal point in Singapore for clinicians, scientists and companies to explore research collaborations in nutritional sciences, epigenetics, developmental determinants of chronic diseases and metabolic disease. "This is the time to bring these multidisciplinary and complementary programmes with NUS together under one umbrella. The SiNMeD investigators have demonstrated the ability to work together to garner both peer-reviewed academic support and to partner with industry in collaborative research programmes" says Professor Judith Swain, MD, Executive Director of A*STAR's SICS and Lien Ying Chow Professor of Medicine at NUS' YLLSoM.

There is growing interest in how the incidence, progression, and treatment of diseases may be different in Asia, and how Asian preferences and culture influence human development and the maintenance of health throughout life, especially the burning topic of "healthy ageing". As Singapore has excellent healthcare and research capabilities, and is well positioned to study health and disease in Asian populations, it provides a strong value proposition for companies seeking to develop products for Asia's diverse populations. Leading nutrition companies like Danone and Abbott have already established research units in Biopolis in Singapore, while others like Nestle have a strong history of research collaborations with A*STAR.

Dr Benjamin Seet, Executive Director of A*STAR's Biomedical Research Council said, "SiNMeD's research will help us to understand how the food we eat can lead to epigenetic changes in our DNA, which will in turn, either protect or predispose us to diseases like obesity and diabetes. This opens up new approaches to prevent and treat these diseases." He added, "This area of research represents a strategic research thrust for A*STAR and Singapore. If we do this well, it will provide a unique and very competitive platform that will conduct cutting-edge research, as well as serve to strengthen our partnerships with some of the world's largest nutrition companies."

SiNMeD will also serve as a focal point for talent development of all levels from undergraduate and graduate students, to post-doctoral and clinical fellows, both locally as well as internationally. SiNMeD will be a magnet for attracting the best young trainees and faculty who are interested in human development, metabolic diseases and nutritional science.

"Our knowledge of how optimal nutrition and lifestyle can delay or prevent disease onset in Asians is sadly lacking. SiNMeD will pool the expertise of NUS and A*STAR to greatly improve our knowledge of this area, to the betterment of society," said Prof Barry Halliwell, NUS' Deputy President (Research and Technology) and Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Professor.

SiNMeD will be headed by its Founding Director Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng of NUS, who also serves as the Deputy Executive Director of SICS. SiNMeD will be made up of a strong team of clinical and basic scientists from A*STAR and NUS, leveraging on the key capabilities of both institutions.

Associate Professor Chong Yap Seng explained how international and local researchers have been brought together to work on this important area in Singapore. He said, "The S$25 million Metabolic Translational and Clinical Research (TCR) Flagship Programme grant awarded by the National Research Foundation in 2008 brought clinical investigators from NUHS, KKH, SGH and TTSH together with researchers from SICS and other A*STAR research institutes. With our partners from the UK and New Zealand in EpiGen, we had the critical mass of talent and resources to compete on the world stage. We have never looked back since."

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