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

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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