Duke-NUS appoints Dr Zhang Su-Chun as Director of its Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders Programme

The Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) in Singapore announced today that it is appointing Prof. Zhang Su-Chun, as Director of its Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders (NBD) Signature Research Programme.  Prof. Zhang is an internationally-recognised neuroscientist, known for pioneering the transformation of embryonic stem cells into neural cells, leading the way for possible future treatments of Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative neurological disorders. 

Prof. Zhang, who holds 17 patents, joins Duke-NUS Medical School from the Waisman Centre of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA, where he is the Steenbock Professor in Behavioural and Neural Sciences. His appointment takes effect on 1 March 2017. 

“Prof. Zhang was selected from an extremely qualified pool of candidates following an extensive search. His impressive training, experience and accomplishments make him a natural fit for this position,” said Prof. Patrick Casey, Senior Vice Dean of Research of the School.  

Prof. Casey also praised the work of the search committee, which was led by Prof. David Virshup, Director of the Duke-NUS Programme in Cancer and Stem Cell Biology.  “Prof. David Virshup and the search committee provided untiring service and direction over the past year, the result of which is the recruitment to Singapore of a distinguished individual of whom the entire research community is excited to welcome.”

Prof. Thomas Coffman, Dean of Duke-NUS, said, “I am delighted to welcome Prof. Zhang to the Duke-NUS family.  His appointment will not only catalyse neuroscience research efforts at Duke-NUS, but also propel our partnership with the National Neuroscience Institute and more broadly within the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre.”  

Prof. Coffman added, “In addition to cutting-edge research, the NBD Programme is dedicated to training the next generation of researchers who will go on to be innovators and leaders in the neuroscience arena.  As a physician-scientist, Prof. Zhang embodies that ideal, and is the perfect person to help us achieve our goals.”

Prof. Zhang, who trained in China, Canada and the USA, will lead the School’s research faculty in investigating neuroscience and behavioural disorders such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, that affect a growing number of people  in Singapore. The Duke-NUS NBD faculty have been prolific in the past year, making breakthrough discoveries into cognitive sciences, autism, sleep disorders and the effects of sleep-wake cycles or circadian rhythms. They have also received many local and international competitive grants to further their work. There are currently more than a dozen faculty in the NBD Programme with research interests ranging from the development and differentiation of neurons to brain imaging, perception and behaviour.  

As Director, Prof. Zhang will also work closely with Duke University in the US, and with academic and clinical partners in Singapore, particularly the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) of SingHealth, the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), as well as the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), to develop next-generation approaches to probe neuronal function and improve therapies for neurological disorders.

“I am thrilled to join Duke-NUS Medical School, which has a strong and established tradition of research excellence,” said Prof. Zhang. “I look forward to working in tandem with our outstanding team of scientists, and with our research partners in Singapore and the region.”

Building upon his success in directed neural differentiation, Prof. Zhang’s laboratory in the University of Wisconsin has reprogrammed neural cells from skin tissues or blood cells of patients with neurological disorders such as motor neuron diseases and Down syndrome. Using the state-of-the-art genome editing technology, the laboratory has built transgenic disease human cell lines and corrected mutations in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) derived from patients’ cells. The team is now dissecting cellular and molecular processes that underlie neural degeneration, and also transforming these cellular models to templates for drug discovery.

Prof. Zhang holds a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from Wenzhou Medical College, China, a Master of Science (MSc) degree from Shanghai Medical University (now the medical school of Fudan University), China, and a PhD from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. He completed his postdoctoral training in the University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA.