Friday, 10 Dec, 2021
Top national science honours for Duke-NUS researcher and GB member
At a hybrid ceremony, held on 10 December 2021 at the Istana, Singapore President Madam Halimah Yacob presented SingHealth Group CEO and Duke-NUS Governing Board member, Professor Ivy Ng and Professor Wang Linfa from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS with the President’s Science and Technology Medal and the President’s Science Award, respectively.
They were among five outstanding research scientists and engineers in Singapore who were recognised for their remarkable contributions to the field of science and technology. At the same time, three young outstanding scientists received the Young Scientist Award which was conferred by Deputy Prime Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat.
Opening the ceremony, Mr Heng first acknowledged the significant contributions from the scientific community to the fight against COVID in particular but also in other areas of importance including advanced manufacturing, urban solutions and sustainability.
“But our R&D effort is more than just research grants. Ultimately, at the heart of our R&D efforts are the research scientists and engineers, whose curiosity and ingenuity drive new discoveries and breakthroughs. Today, we honour eight of these scientists and leaders who have made important contributions to our R&D drive. They have all shown strong commitment to both scientific excellence as well as making a real-world impact,” he said.
Mr Heng closed his remarks congratulating all the winners for their “exemplary achievements”.
“These awards are recognition of your achievements so far, but I am confident that you will continue to make even more significant contributions in the years ahead,” he said.
Professor Ivy Ng receives the President’s Science and Technology Medal
Prof Ng, who also serves on the board of the National Medical Research Council, received the prestigious medal “for her outstanding leadership in the advancement of academic medicine in Singapore through developing health and biomedical sciences research and innovation, nurturing clinical research talent, and establishing strategic partnerships among academia, healthcare, and industry, to improve healthcare infrastructure”.
Commenting on her win, Prof Ng said:
“Academic medicine is all about improving care for our patients, and I am heartened that we have made significant progress in building up our capabilities in clinical care, research, innovation, and education over the years, in pursuit of our vision to transform tomorrow’s medicine. I am very honoured and humbled to receive this award and I see it as a collective recognition of the outstanding contributions made by individuals and teams I have worked with across the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, who have made my journey in medicine and science truly meaningful. This award belongs to them and I hope it spurs us on to develop better healthcare solutions for our patients.”
Professor Wang Linfa receives the President’s Science Award
Professor Wang, who is also the executive director of the National Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Responses (PREPARE), received the President’s Science Award “in recognition of his stellar contributions to the field of bat biology and emerging viral diseases and the successful translation of his discoveries into biomedical innovations and pandemic responses that have helped combat several viral outbreaks, including COVID-19”.
On being conferred the award, Prof Wang said:
“I am very honoured to receive this prestigious award, which is the highest honour given to a scientist in Singapore. I hope that the award will enable me to play an even more important role in contributing to science in Singapore and inspire the next generation of scientists.”
He has led several international One Health studies involving wildlife, livestock, and human hosts, through which he confirmed bats as the major reservoir for emerging zoonotic viruses. Through his extensive work in bat biology and emerging viruses, Prof Wang established bats as a new model system for understanding zoonotic transmission of viral diseases and unravelled the physiological mechanisms by which bats could continue to be healthy despite harbouring numerous viruses.
As one of the world’s foremost experts on emerging bat-borne zoonotic viruses, Prof Wang has contributed significantly to the regional response to recent viral epidemics and pandemics, including Nipah, SARS, and COVID-19.
During the SARS epidemic, he traced the origin of SARS-CoV-1 to bats. Similarly, since the onset of the current pandemic, he has marshalled his team to put up a multifaceted fight against COVID-19, including the development of a novel surrogate virus neutralisation test—the only FDA-approved serological test—that enables accurate detection of neutralising antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, and the development of a third generation coronavirus vaccine strategy that could potentially combat not only known SARS-CoV-2 variants, but also other coronaviruses that may emerge in the future.
Furthermore, through recent work that shows how bats co-exist with viruses through the adaptation of their host defense systems, Prof Wang and his team have provided valuable insights for better prediction, prevention, and management if future viral outbreaks. Beyond infectious diseases, his research has implications for other diseases, including cancer, inflammatory and metabolic diseases, and ageing-related complications.
As a member of multiple pandemic response committees, including several World Health Organisation COVID-19 committees, Singapore’s COVID-19 Research Workgroup, and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Prof Wang provides expert advice to national and international agencies to enable them to better respond to epidemics and pandemics. He is also a fellow of prestigious academic bodies, including the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering and the American Academy of Microbiology.
Adding his congratulations to the winners, Duke-NUS Dean Professor Thomas Coffman said:
“I could not be happier that both Ivy and Linfa are being recognised at today’s ceremony. I have had the pleasure of working closely alongside Ivy, watching our AMC grow into a formidable force that improves lives through outstanding patient care, groundbreaking research and transformative innovations. As a true champion of patients, Ivy has profoundly impacted the ethos of the health system, inspiring a culture of curiosity and innovation across the AMC to challenge the status quo for a better tomorrow. Quote
“Any one of Linfa’s accomplishments make him a worthy recipient of the President’s Science Award but the constellation of his accomplishments during this pandemic, drawn from a career spent studying bats and emerging viruses, makes this a particularly fitting tribute. His contribution to Singapore and the world will be counted in millions of lives impacted.”
Top national honours for research excellence
Two NUS-affiliated researchers have also received national recognition for their excellent achievements and contributions to science and technology. At the ceremony, Professor Too Heng-Phon from NUS Medicine was conferred the prestigious President’s Technology Award—this is the highest honour bestowed on research scientists and engineers in Singapore—and Assistant Professor Yvonne Gao received the Young Scientist Award.
Conferred annually, the President’s Science and Technology Awards celebrate outstanding and invaluable contributions by individuals or teams to Singapore’s research and development landscape. Similarly, the Young Scientist Awards (YSA), administered by the Singapore National Academy of Science (SNAS), and supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), are presented to researchers aged 35 and below who have the potential to be world-class researchers in their fields of expertise.
Photo of Ivy Ng: SingHealth; Rest credit: Agency for Science, Technology and Research