Gastric cancer research receives boost

Assoc Prof Yeoh (first row, centre) with members of the SGCC

Gastric cancer is the 4th and 5th cause of cancer death in men and women respectively in Singapore. Although curable if detected early, most gastric cancer patients are only diagnosed at advanced disease stages, giving them a five-year survival rate of less than 5 per cent. Currently, endoscopy is the gold standard for diagnosing gastric cancer, but the process is costly and invasive, making it a poor fit for mass screening of the population.

In order to further develop early detection and prevention strategies as well as more precise treatments for gastric cancer patients aimed at reducing the incidence and morbidity of the disease, the Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council (NMRC) has awarded $25 million to the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium (SGCC), led by Associate Professor Yeoh Khay Guan from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, under the Open Fund-Large Collaborative Grant programme at an awards ceremony on 3 April.

SGCC, a multidisciplinary national research programme comprising clinicians and scientists from academic medical centres, universities and research institutes, has developed a first-of-its-kind blood test for early detection of gastric cancer.

“We are excited to receive this award as it will enable us to deliver our scientific discoveries into the clinic to benefit patients. Our earlier work has developed a suite of new technologies, which we expect will significantly improve the diagnosis and treatment of gastric cancer. Ultimately our aim is to prevent gastric cancer or to detect it early so that it can be cured,” said Assoc Prof Yeoh.

Five Duke-NUS Medical School researchers were also honoured at the ceremony for their leading-edge translational and clinical research. Professor Karl Tryggvason, Professor David M. Virshup and Professor Antonio Bertoletti received NMRC’s top accolade — the Singapore Translational Research Investigator Award. Prof Tryggvason was recognised for his work on developing new cell therapy based treatments for diabetes complications, while Prof Virshup received the award for his research on signalling pathways associated with cancer. Prof Bertoletti’s development of a new immunotherapy technique for treating liver cancer patients with hepatitis B earned him his award.

Professor Ooi Eng Eong and Associate Professor Ong Sin Tiong bagged the esteemed Clinician Scientist Award – Senior Investigator for their work in finding a new approach to developing viral vaccines and blood cancer research respectively.