Round-up of Duke-NUS’ latest people news

COVID-19 continues to be a key focus of innovative work at Duke-NUS and throughout the Academic Medical Centre. Among the latest innovations is the brainchild of Duke-NUS alumnus and clinical entrepreneur-in-residence Dr Rena Dharmawan, a made-in-Singapore robot that promises to perform nasal swabs faster, safely and more comfortably. But Duke-NUS has also celebrated other key milestones and events, including the launch of its new Pre-hospital and Emergency Research Centre as well as three prestigious awards that were won by its research faculty for their work on wound healing and neuroscience.

Improving lives through pre-hospital and emergency medical services research

Over the past ten years, the volume of ambulance calls and visits to the emergency department have risen sharply. At the same time, Singapore’s rapidly ageing population and the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions are set to add further pressures on emergency services. To alleviate these pressures and save lives, Duke-NUS launched Singapore’s first Pre-hospital and Emergency Research Centre (PERC) in September 2020.

Through rigorous research and innovation, PERC will enhance the pre-emergency care system so that every patient gets the right care at the right time.

“We have been dreaming of setting up a centre like this for many years. Through rigorous research and innovation at PERC, we want to be able to deliver excellent health outcomes, cost-effective care, improve the quality of life for our patients and improve workforce satisfaction,” said Professor Marcus Ong, Director of Duke-NUS’ Health Services and Systems Research Programme, which hosts the centre.

The Centre will work closely with multiple agencies, from dispatch and fire departments to emergency medicine and ambulance services as well as community care providers to identify gaps in pre-hospital care. Among its areas of focus is studying the development of alternative care pathways that further support the government’s mission of shifting healthcare from hospital to home where appropriate.

“The alternative pathway model is more aligned with our government’s goal of shifting healthcare from one that is centred on the hospital to one that is more home-based,” said Ong, who also heads PERC. “Ultimately, we want to be able to deliver better outcomes for our patients as well as for our health system.”

Singapore’s pre-emergency service stakeholders came together to mark the official opening of Duke-NUS’ Pre-Hospital and Emergency Research Centre
Singapore’s pre-emergency service stakeholders came together to mark the official opening of Duke-NUS’ Pre-Hospital and Emergency Research Centre on 9 September 2020

Duke-NUS’ scientists climb to new highs

“I could not be more thrilled. 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 hope that I can inspire young scientists — especially women scientists — to pursue their dreams.”

Professor Wang Hongyan, Deputy Director of the Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders Programme, became the first female scientist from Singapore to be elected as an EMBO Associate Member, which is an honour reserved for a small number of leading scientists outside Europe in recognition of their research. excellence and outstanding accomplishments.

“It is a privilege to be chosen as a member of the Council for the 2020-2021 term. The Council is an excellent platform for contributing to policy conversations around healthy ageing and longevity on regional and global levels. The start of my membership in the year 2020 is especially meaningful in two ways — first, it marks the start of The Decade of Healthy Ageing (2020-2030), and second, it provides an opportunity to partake in policy discussions on the impact of COVID-19 on older persons, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

On 1 October, Assistant Professor Rahul Malhotra from the Health Services and Systems Research (HSSR) Programme and Head of Research at the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE) at Duke-NUS joined the 29-member Global Future Council on Healthy Ageing and Longevity, which is organised by the World Economic Forum and brings together interdisciplinary experts to promote innovative thinking for an inclusive future for all. The Council’s work will focus on shaping conversation on COVID-19 and ageing societies and develop good practices to help older adults thrive during and after the pandemic.

“The Translational Regenerative Science award is a recognition that our treatment is very promising for clinical translation and will perhaps make a real difference to patients who struggle with deep, slow-healing, multi-layer wounds. Next, we will conduct more tests, so we can better understand why the treatment was so beneficial, and to delineate which types of wounds are the best candidates for this type of treatment.”

Lisa Tucker
The 2020 Translational Regenerative Science Award from the Wound Healing Society was awarded to Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Assistant Professor Lisa Tucker-Kellogg who represented a team that includes lead author N Jannah Nasir. They demonstrated that the FDA-approved iron chelation drug desferrioxamine could be re-purposed to improve wound healing.

Made-in-Singapore robot promises faster, safer and gentler COVID-19 swabbing

A group of clinicians from the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre has partnered with medical robotics company Biobot Surgical Pte Ltd to develop a robot that automates the nasal swabbing needed to diagnose COVID-19.

Known as SwabBot™, the robot was born to help address the limitations of manual COVID- 19 swabbing by reducing swabbers’ risk of exposure to the virus, reducing the need for trained manpower, standardising the consistency of swabs taken and providing greater throughput of swab tests as the robot does not suffer from fatigue and remains efficient throughout the day. Overall, the duration of the SwabBot-performed test is just 20 seconds from start to finish.

The project was initiated in April 2020 by a diverse group of clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), Singapore General Hospital and Duke-NUS.

“Our team felt that we had to find a better way to swab patients to reduce the risk of exposure of COVID-19 to our healthcare workers, especially when patients sneeze or cough during the swabbing process,” said Principal Investigator Dr Rena Dharmawan (Class of 2011), an associate consultant with the Division of Surgery and Surgical Oncology at NCCS and Clinical Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Centre of Technology & Development at Duke-NUS.

“With SwabBot™, healthcare workers can assist with the swabbing process from a safe distance. It also helps to optimise resources as fewer healthcare workers are needed to do the swab collection, and less personal protective equipment is utilised,” said Rena.


A volunteer demonstrates how the SwabBot works // Credit: National Cancer Centre Singapore
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