National University of Singapore scientists conferred national honours for research excellence

Top researchers in NUS have been recognised for their outstanding contributions to the advancement of science and technology in Singapore. Professor Ivy Ng from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and NUS Medicine was conferred the President’s Science and Technology Medal (PSTM), Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS received the President’s Science Award (PSA), and Professor Too Heng-Phon from NUS Medicine received the President’s Technology Award (PTA).

Presented by Singapore President Halimah Yacob on 10 December 2021, these are top honours conferred upon research scientists and engineers in Singapore whose work has resulted in significant scientific, technological or economic benefits for the country.

Young research star Assistant Professor Yvonne Gao from NUS Physics and Centre for Quantum Technologies at NUS (CQT) received the Young Scientist Award (YSA) from Deputy Prime Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat. Organised by the Singapore National Academy of Science and supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the YSA recognises the accomplishments of researchers under 35, who have shown strong potential to be world-class experts in their fields.

President’s Science and Technology Medal: Prof Ivy Ng

Prof Ng, who is a member of the Duke-NUS Governing Board, clinical professor at Duke-NUS and NUS Medicine as well as Group CEO of SingHealth, was conferred the PSTM for for her outstanding leadership in the development of academic medicine in Singapore, nurturing clinical research talent, and for pushing the boundaries of medicine to improve health and healthcare delivery. She has also been a tireless advocate for biomedical research, innovation and education.

Prof Ng has played a pivotal role in transforming SingHealth, Singapore’s largest group of healthcare institutions, into a thriving Academic Medical Centre since her appointment as its Group CEO in 2012. She has been instrumental in driving the advancement of the SingHealth Duke-NUS academic medicine partnership, where she oversaw the formation of 15 Academic Clinical Programmes which foster the multidisciplinary collaboration among the medical, scientific and education communities that enables care transformation.

Prof Ng’s focus on developing people has greatly benefitted Singapore’s research and education talent pool, and helped to ensure a robust pipeline of healthcare professionals, clinician scientists and innovators, and healthcare educators for the future.

Her other distinguished contributions include the setting up the National Thalassaemia Registry that led to a significant reduction in thalassaemia major births in Singapore through early identification of at-risk couples, and spearheading a programme to screen babies for hearing impairment that improved early diagnosis and clinical intervention.

In response to receiving this prestigious accolade, Prof Ng said, “Academic medicine is all about improving care for our patients, and I am heartened that we have made much progress in building up our capabilities in clinical care, research, innovation, and education over the years in pursuit of our vision to better define tomorrow’s medicine.”

“I am very honoured and humbled to receive this award, and I see it as a recognition of the outstanding individuals and teams I have worked with in the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre. They have made my journey in medicine and science a truly meaningful one. This award belongs to them, and I hope it spurs us on to achieve even greater things together for our patients,” she added.

President’s Science Award: Prof Wang Linfa

Prof Wang from Duke-NUS’ Programme in Emerging Infectious Diseases was awarded the PSA for his breakthrough research and contributions to the field of bat biology and emerging viral transmission. His work will help to better predict, prevent and control future viral spill, and has implications for other conditions including cancer, inflammation, and ageing-related diseases.

Prof Wang has contributed significantly to Singapore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the development of a novel rapid serological test kit ─ cPass™ ─ in collaboration with Diagnostics Development Hub (DxD Hub) and GenScript Biotech Corporation, that detects SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies with high specificity and sensitivity. This is currently the only FDA-approved test for detecting SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and used in more than 50 countries.

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. I also hope the Award will further highlight the importance of basic research in viruses and bats in combatting current and future pandemics.”

President’s Technology Award: Assoc Prof Too Heng-Phon

Assoc Prof Too from NUS Medicine received the PTA for his groundbreaking work in developing an accurate and versatile method to detect microRNA (miRNA) biomarkers, leading to the clinical implementation of blood tests for early detection of diseases such as cancer. This technology has enabled the development of the world’s first molecular blood test for early detection of gastric cancer, when patients have the best chance of survival. It has also been used to develop assays for early detection of lung and breast cancer, with clinical validation studies done in the last two years.

Assoc Prof Too is also the scientific Co-founder, Chief Scientific Advisor and Non-executive Chairman of MiRXES, a Singapore-headquartered biotechnology company that has licensed and commercialised his miRNA detection technology.

On being conferred the PTA, Assoc Prof Too said, “It is a humbling experience to receive the honour, and I am grateful for the people who have given us several opportunities along the journey. It is my hope that through these assays, we will detect even earlier stages of disease development, in order to intercept the progress of diseases and ultimately, save and improve more lives.”

Young Scientists Award: Asst Prof Yvonne Gao

Asst Prof Gao from NUS Physics and CQT was presented with the YSA for her work on developing the key hardware building blocks – such as novel device architectures – for quantum computers. Her research is critical for scaling up quantum devices while effectively preserving their performance. Her PhD work has also resulted in two patents which have been licensed in a Yale spin-off based in the United States.

Asst Prof Gao is also mentoring the next generation of young scientists, through public talks, popular science writing and school outreach activities.

“I’m truly honoured to receive the YSA. This recognition is especially meaningful for both me and my team members as we have been working hard to establish our new research efforts in the past year,” said Asst Prof Gao.