Credit: Nanyang Technological University

Credit: Nanyang Technological University

Singapore’s NTU launches nationwide research initiative to promote lung health

Earlier this week, ​​ Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore announced the launch of a nationwide research initiative on lung health.

The formation of the Academic Respiratory Initiative for Pulmonary Health (TARIPH) was officially announced at the 2nd International Symposium on Respiratory Research, hosted by NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) at its Novena campus.

The nationwide research initiative aims to understand the unique characteristics of lung diseases in Singapore and improve their prevention, treatment and care services.

"With the high burden of lung diseases in Singapore, LKCMedicine is taking the lead in driving respiratory research to deepen our understanding of lung health, improve prevention and develop better treatments for lung diseases, with a focus on the population of Singapore and its region," said Professor James Best, Dean of the LKCMedicine.

Respiratory disease is a major contributor to disease burden in Singapore, with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) rising in terms of leading causes of death, while asthma has moderate prevalence but high rates of mortality.

With the rapidly ageing population and contributing factors such as environmental pollution, prevalence of respiratory disease could worsen and through research, TARIPH will be best placed to address the challenge ahead.

Lung diseases affect different ethnicities in different ways. However, existing research and treatment recommendations for lung diseases focus on data from Caucasian populations.

TARIPH, spearheaded by NTU's LKCMedicine, aims to address this pressing gap in knowledge for the Singaporean population and Asian patients.

"TARIPH will focus on the full spectrum of research – from bench to bedside and to the population. Its flagship research effort will characterise lung diseases at the molecular level to understand the cause of illness in Asian patients. At the same time, clinical data from hospitals and clinics in Singapore will allow clinician scientists to address pertinent questions that will improve clinical care in the near future,” Professor Best added.

The findings from TARIPH could aid policymakers and the healthcare sector in determining strategies and implementation of medical interventions, healthcare delivery and access, health promotion and disease awareness in Singapore, and potentially throughout Asia.

Credit: NTU

For a start, TARIPH will bring together more than 30 investigators from local and international institutions to generate evidence on how lung diseases present and develop in local patient populations.

These TARIPH investigators are from Singapore's research agencies, hospitals and polyclinics, and international partners such as the University of Newcastle, Australia, Imperial College London, University of British Columbia, Canada, and the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. They have diverse backgrounds ranging from physiology, engineering to data analytics, epidemiology and clinical medicine.

The Phenotypes of Respiratory Disease project

Scheduled to start this year, TARIPH's flagship project "Phenotypes of Respiratory Disease" will detail the characteristics, behaviours and progression of respiratory diseases specific to Singapore.

This will allow medical decisions, practices and interventions to be tailored to Asians and the individual rather than the disease. It will develop new DNA-based tests for common lung infections.

TARIPH will also study the economic and social costs of respiratory disease in Singapore and examine how to improve the ways chronic lung disease patients access care.

There will be other collaborative and interdisciplinary projects under TARIPH, some of which are already underway. They include:

(1)    Fungal Profiling of Bronchiectasis

This study is led by investigators from LKCMedicine and involves TARIPH members from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital and A*STAR institutes, the Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology and the Genome Institute of Singapore. 

The study found that the rate of fungal infections underlying bronchiectasis, a disease in which there is permanent enlargement of parts of the airways of the lung, is remarkably high in Asian populations.

In addition to setting out localised guidelines that take these factors into consideration, the team is also looking into developing new rapid diagnostics to identify patients early, so that further damage to already-damaged lungs can be prevented.

(2)    Barriers to accessing care in the community

Many patients with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), seek help very late, when they are already unwell and need urgent treatment. 

A team of TARIPH collaborators at LKCMedicine and in the polyclinics will study the factors that prevent patients here from seeking help early, and identifying potential touchpoints for meaningful interventions, which will be evaluated through nation-wide clinical trials.

(3)    Understanding early Inflammatory, infectious and immune changes in COPD

This project examines molecular mechanisms of early COPD using a novel cohort of Singaporean smokers at risk of lung function decline and thus COPD. 

The participants are recruited through collaboration with local TARIPH clinicians, primary care leaders and NTU's newly established Centre for Population Health Sciences (CePHas). It aims to identify early signs of COPD to develop new biomarkers and new targets for therapeutic intervention.

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