Singapore's Institute of Medical Biology strives for translation.
Already a heavy-hitter in basic research, Singapore has set its sights on the clinic. Last month, the city-state opened its Institute of Medical Biology (IMB), dedicated to translating biomedical science into treatments, in the Biopolis campus.
Biopolis, a 18.5-hectare complex, opened six years ago and is still under construction. More than 1,000 scientists study molecular biology, bioinformatics and bioengineering in its seven institutes. The IMB's 37,000 square metres houses 120 scientists in 13 labs. Researchers started moving in last April.
At the IMB, applying science to the clinic — translational research — comes first, says director Birgit Lane. “People aren't finding they have to pay lip service to translational principles in order to get their funding,” she says.
Lane wants her colleagues to strike up collaborations with physicians in Singapore and abroad. A cell biologist who studies rare skin disorders, Lane works with doctors at Singapore's National Skin Centre, which provides her with samples from patients.
And IMB researcher Sai Kiang Lim also works in Singapore National University's surgery department. Her team uses mesenchymal stem cells derived from embryonic stem cells as a treatment for heart disease. At the moment, she is using cell and animal models, but clinical studies are on the horizon.
“I have always been collaborating with clinicians but we were never able to bring anything close to the clinic,” says Lim. If all goes well at the IMB, the clinic should not be far off, she says.
Lim keeps her clinical collaborators up to date on her research so they can anticipate stumbling blocks. She also directs her bench work towards treatments: her lab tests therapies on diabetic pigs, which are a better stand-in for humans with heart disease than healthy animals are.
“We can already see a big difference in the amount of clinical material we're going to have from the Singapore site,” says Irwin McClean, a geneticist at the University of Dundee in Scotland who collaborates with Lane.
Singapore's biomedical boom has sucked up talent from around the world, and Lane says the IMB plans to hire up to seven more investigators.
Yet despite bold goals, the IMB already faces a hurdle: two of its most prominent scientists now split their time with Britain. Stem-cell pioneer Alan Colman is about to join King's College London. And from this month, Lane will lead a biomedical centre at the University of Dundee.
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Callaway, E. Singapore gears up for translation. Nature 451, 602 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nj7178-602b