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Tuesday, 07 Jul, 2020

Duke-NUS scientist bestowed life-long membership of prestigious European life sciences organisation

  • Professor Wang Hongyan is now first woman scientist from Singapore to obtain this significant scientific achievement.
  • Professor Wang joins an exclusive club of three Singapore-based scientists to become Associate Members of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).
  • Professor Wang is also a past recipient of the Singapore National Academy of Science’s Young Scientist Award.


Singapore, 7 July 2020 – The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) recently bestowed the lifetime honour of EMBO Membership upon 63 leading scientists, recognising their remarkable achievements in the life sciences. Among them is Singapore’s first woman scientist to join the organisation’s ranks as an Associate Member – Professor Wang Hongyan, Deputy Director of the Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders (NBD) programme at Duke-NUS Medical School.

EMBO Associate Membership is a prestigious achievement reserved for a small number of leading scientists outside Europe, in recognition of their research excellence and outstanding accomplishments. Prof Wang also becomes the third Singapore-based scientist to be elected to the prestigious EMBO Associate Membership, which was conferred in recognition of her extensive academic and research contributions in the field of neuroscience.

“As the first female scientist from Singapore elected to be an EMBO Associate Member, I feel extremely honoured and thrilled,” said Prof Wang. “This is an important recognition for Singapore and for women in science as it showcases the world-class research quality and innovation of Singaporeans. I received almost all my scientific training in Singapore and I have no doubt that more women scientists from Singapore will receive international recognition for their work in the future.”

At Duke-NUS, Prof Wang’s laboratory studies neural development and focuses on molecular mechanisms underlying neural stem cell division, proliferation and differentiation, with a particular interest in understanding neural stem cell self-renewal and asymmetric division. In 2008, she won the Singapore National Academy of Science’s Young Scientist Award – which recognises researchers under the age of 35 who display tremendous potential in becoming world-class researchers in their fields – for her research establishing fruit fly neural stem cells as a new model for studying brain tumour suppressors and discovery of several brain tumour-suppressor genes in fruit flies. Then an assistant professor, Professor Wang became the first Duke-NUS researcher to win the award.

Her research received a Research Fellowship award and a US$2 million research grant from Singapore’s National Research Foundation in 2009, and has been published in top-tier scientific journals, including Nature, Developmental Cell, and The Journal of Cell Biology. Among Prof Wang’s recent notable contributions was her research on the activation of dormant neural stem cells in fruit flies and the generation of new neurons, which could potentially have applications in regenerative medicine to help people with brain injury or neuronal loss, if similar mechanisms are found to apply in humans.

These accomplishments have paved the way for Prof Wang’s continuing research, including her team’s subsequent discovery of protein complexes that disrupt dedifferentiation, a process known to promote tumour development. Her laboratory also uses fruit fly neural stem cells as a model for discovering molecular mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders.

Recognising the significance of her new platform as an EMBO Associate Member, Prof Wang shared the following advice for others in the field of science: “A career in science is rewarding but can be challenging too. I would like to encourage Singaporeans, especially women scientists who are in their early scientific career, to be confident of themselves, follow their passions and persevere towards their goals.”

Prof Maria Leptin, Director of EMBO, remarked, “The new Members have contributed to the success of research in the life sciences in Europe and around the world. As EMBO Members, they can help to shape the future through EMBO’s work to support talented researchers, bring ideas together, and promote an international research environment conducive to excellent science.”

Prof Wang Hongyan
Professor Wang Hongyan, Deputy Director of the Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, has become the first Singaporean woman scientist to be honoured with a lifetime Associate Membership of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), an organisation comprised of more than 1800 scientists that strives to achieve excellence in life sciences research in Europe and across the globe. 

About EMBO

EMBO is an organisation comprised of more than 1800 scientists that strives to achieve excellence in life sciences research in Europe and across the globe. Singapore became the first non-European nation to become an EMBO Associate Member state in 2016. Through its various initiatives, including the organisation of courses, workshops, and conferences, and the publication of peer-reviewed scientific journals, EMBO aims to promote the exchange of ideas and novel findings, and foster international collaborations among scientists from various parts of the world. It also aids in advancing the growth of young and upcoming scientists by providing funding support in the form of short- and long-term fellowships, young investigator grants, travel grants, and other awards.

EMBO’s tradition of recognising outstanding life scientists as Members dates back to 1963, when an initial group of 150 Members were selected by EMBO’s Council. Since then, EMBO Members have been invited to nominate and elect exceptional researchers to join the community, which now exceeds 1,800 Members and Associate Members. Elections for EMBO Members are held annually. The new EMBO Members join a growing list of renowned researchers elected before them, which includes 88 Nobel laureates.


For media enquiries, please contact Federico Graciano, Duke-NUS Communications.