Two leaders in SingHealth and A*Star receive S'pore's top scientific honour

SINGAPORE – Two scientific “architects” who helped to mould and advance the research landscape in their respective institutions received medals under the 2021 President’s Science and Technology Awards.

Professor Ivy Ng, SingHealth’s group chief executive since 2012, has played a key role in transforming the nation’s largest healthcare cluster into an academic medical centre – a network that aims to excel in patient care while delving into a trove of research to uncover new insights in medicine.

Sir Peter Gluckman from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*Star) Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences was the mind behind the development of long-term studies that investigated how pregnancy and early childhood shape the health of mother and child.

They received the prestigious President’s Science and Technology Medal from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Friday (Dec 10).

Prof Ng, 63, orchestrated the formation of the SingHealth Duke-National Univerity of Singapore Academic Medical Centre in 2014 so that clinicians and researchers could find better ways to predict and prevent diseases, advance diagnostic capabilities, and improve clinical outcomes and patient experiences.

Among the numerous academic clinical programmes, institutes and the 13 disease centres that were born from the academic medical centre, Prof Ng has a soft spot for the Genomic Medicine Centre. This is because she started out as a specialist who treated children with genetic disorders.

As a paediatric geneticist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital in the 1990s, she had a special interest in thalassaemia, the most common genetic disorder in Singapore.

In its severe form, patients with the blood condition need monthly blood transfusions to survive.

Prof Ng set up the National Thalassaemia Registry in 1992 so that parents will know if their unborn baby has thalassaemia major at an early stage of their pregnancy and receive support.

Prof Gluckman, 72, who joined A*Star in 2007, worked with institutes to develop a research plan to address the rising rates of metabolic disease in Singapore, including diabetes during pregnancy, called gestational diabetes.

Originally trained as a paediatrician, he proposed the idea to develop Singapore’s largest and most comprehensive birth cohort study, called Growing Up In Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes.

The study, which started in 2008, tracked the health and development of about 1,000 children over a decade, from when they were foetuses.

Group CEO of SingHealth Prof Ivy Ng (left) receiving the President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM) from President Halimah Yacob during the 2021 President’s Science and Technology Awards (PSTA) ceremony at the Istana on Dec 10, 2021. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

“What happens to us as a foetus affects our development as an infant, which affects our journey through childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood, to ageing,” said Prof Gluckman, explaining the importance of long-term cohort studies.

“We recognised that the origins of psychological resilience depend on the first four years (of life), and psychological resilience may be the most important skill to thrive in a world of rapid change,” he said.

“Inadequate development can appear as learning and emotional or mental health problems in young people with consequences for adulthood in terms of employment, relationships and mental health,” added Prof Gluckman, who is the chief scientific officer of the Singapore Institute of Clinical Sciences.

With the children in the study now entering adolescence, youth mental health will be a major focus in the next phase of the long-term research, he noted.

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