Duke-NUS researchers conferred President’s Science Award

Three Duke-NUS and National Cancer Centre Singapore researchers - Professor Patrick Tan, Professor Teh Bin Tean and Professor Steven Rozen, were awarded the 2015 President’s Science Award by President Tony Tan Keng Yam on 16 September 2015 for their outstanding integrative and translational research in Asian cancer genomics.

From left - Prof Teh Bin Tean, Prof Steve Rozen and Prof Patrick Tan
From left - Prof Teh Bin Tean, Prof Steve Rozen and Prof Patrick Tan
Addressing a critical need

It is estimated that by 2030, 70 per cent of the world’s cancer deaths will occur in Asia and the developing countries. Despite this, Asian cancers represent a vast unmet clinical need and relatively little is known about their underlying biology. This underscores the critical importance of the work by Profs Tan, Teh and Rozen. The trio have dovetailed innovative genomic platforms (including next-generation sequencing), basic research and development, and translational and clinical studies. This is to identify novel genetic alterations and investigate the relationships between these alterations and their environment so as to learn how they contribute to the disease. The results have led to improvements in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of such cancers, and the illumination of similar pathways in Western cancers.

Prolific and far-reaching impact

The three researchers have also produced an outstanding record of joint publications and mentorship, as well as a prolific stream of notable scientific breakthroughs documented in high-impact journals such as Nature Genetics, Cancer Discovery, and Science Translational Medicine. One of the team’s key findings include the discovery of specific molecular signatures associated with the exposure to aristolochic acid, a carcinogen found in certain herbal remedies, and how it plays a role in liver and bladder cancer. Another such discovery is the identification of gene mutations like MED12 in breast fibroepithelial tumours. The team also demonstrated the role of chromatin modifier genes such as ARID1A and BAP1 in stomach and biliary tract cancers.

The team’s work has made substantial translational impact and attracted industry funding of close to S$4 million to conduct collaborative research projects with multiple pharmaceutical companies such as Roche, GSK, Bayer, Novartis, and Principia Biopharma.

According to Duke-NUS Dean, Professor Thomas Coffman, “Their ‘team-science’ approach characterises the spirit of the SingHealth and Duke-NUS partnership in Academic Medicine. We are very proud of the team’s achievements and contributions that have been recognised with the President’s Science Award.”

The three scientists

The three scientists – faculty members of Duke-NUS who also hold joint appointments at other renowned institutes - have worked over the past eight years on genes and molecular pathways in various types of cancer prevalent in Asian populations. Their work has spanned basic science, translational research and clinical studies to interrogate key Asian malignancies (like stomach, biliary tract, urinary tract and breast fibroepithelial tumours).

Professor Patrick Tan
Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore
Genome Institute of Singapore, Agency for Science, Technology and Research

Professor Teh Bin Tean
Division of Medical Sciences, National Cancer Centre Singapore
Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore

Professor Steven Rozen
Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore
Centre for Computational Biology, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore