In line with the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) key role in building knowledge infrastructure and human capital for life sciences in Singapore, the University’s Office of Life Sciences has initiated a new programme that focuses on immunology as a strategic area of research. Formed in 2004, the Immunology Programme aims to bring together local immunology talent to create an internationally competitive focus for research, teaching and scholarship in immunology.
To achieve this goal, the Programme will be working with the hospitals to integrate immunology research and clinical practice, simultaneously providing a platform for clinical and basic immunologists to interact and exchange views. Its long term goal is to achieve international excellence while attracting academic talent.
The NUS Office of Life Sciences (OLS) was established in 2001 to develop the University as a world-class hub for the life sciences by coordinating, integrating and facilitating existing and new initiatives aimed at advancing the life sciences at NUS. The OLS has also helped accelerate the University's momentum in cross-disciplinary research and education in the life sciences, particularly at the graduate level. Already in place are seven multi-disciplinary programmes focusing on high impact research in bioengineering, cancer, cardiovascular biology, neurobiology, structural biology, tissue engineering and bioinformatics. The Immunology Programme is the latest initiative by the NUS OLS.
On the setting up of the new Immunology Programme, Professor John Wong, Vice President (Research/Life Sciences) and Director of Office of Life Sciences said, “With the emergence of new infectious diseases such as HIV, Nipah, SARS and avian flu H5N1, as well as the increase of atypical immune responses leading to allergies and autoimmune diseases, novel and better therapies are needed. It is therefore timely that we start a programme in immunology to nucleate the immunology community in NUS and to cement ties with local research institutions and hospitals for a seamless translation of basic science to clinical medicine.”
About the Immunology Programme
Heading the Immunology Programme is Professor Michael Kemeny, who is a world leader and expert in immune regulation, inflammatory models and clinical immunology. Prior to his appointment at NUS, Professor Kemeny headed immunology at King’s College Hospital, King's College London for close to 10 years.
On his plans for the Immunology Programme, Professor Kemeny said, “NUS already has many good immunologists who are doing very good research in areas such as infectious diseases, allergy and autoimmunity. What I plan to do in the next five years is to work with my colleagues at NUS and our collaborators in the research institutes and hospitals to raise the profile of immunology in Singapore, raise the quality of research here and provide greater focus to the current immunology efforts. My vision is for NUS’ Immunology Programme to be in the same league as top universities elsewhere in the world in five years’ time.”
The Programme is made up of 14 full-time and 14 associate members who are drawn from the departments of Biochemistry, Gastroenterology, Medicine, Microbiology, Pediatrics, Pathology, Pharmacology and Physiology at NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, and Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science as well as from research institutes and Singapore’s hospitals and tertiary care centers.
Professor Kemeny added, “To support the overall life sciences initiative of the NUS, we need to create a critical mass of investigators for immunology research. This means that we not only have to bring in good scientists, we must also focus on developing existing talent.”
Research: Develop Expertise in Five Key Areas
NUS’ Immunology Programme will focus on three fundamental aspects of the immune system: antigen presentation, T cell biology and innate immunity. There are currently six research teams looking into areas such as antigen presentation, signaling, T cells, innate immunity, inflammatory diseases and immunity to infection.
Another priority for Professor Kemeny is to initiate greater interaction with the medical community to promote translational research. According to Professor Kemeny, “Translational research is a cornerstone of the Immunology Programme. This is a two-way process that not only takes ideas from basic science and applies them to clinical medicine, but also takes clinical questions back into the laboratory and investigates them using cellular and animal models.”
Under his leadership, the Immunology Programme has initiated several translational research projects with the National University Hospital and the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in areas such as cancer, rheumatology, and renal and respiratory medicine.
Leveraging on the international research talent pool and resources, the Programme is also collaborating with the Karolinska Institute and the University of California, San Diego in both research and education.