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Research facility employs new tech to take on TB, dementia

SINGAPORE — The first national platform for research imaging in diseases opened today (Nov 11), with the aim of focusing on diseases relevant to Singapore and Asia, such as tuberculosis and dementia.

Research facility employs new tech to take on TB, dementia

The Clinical Imaging Research Centre (CIRC), which opened today (Nov 11), will be the first in South-east Asia to use MR/PET scanner technology. Photo: CIRC

SINGAPORE — The first national platform for research imaging in diseases opened today (Nov 11), with the aim of focusing on diseases relevant to Singapore and Asia, such as tuberculosis and dementia.

The Clinical Imaging Research Centre (CIRC), located in the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, will be the first in South-east Asia to use MR/PET scanner technology, or magnetic resonance (MR) imaging-compatible positron emission tomographic (PET) technology.

The scanner combines two powerful imaging techniques to conduct a more precise examination compared to other techniques, such as a CT scan.

Speaking at the launch of the centre, Professor Nicholas Paton of Department of Medicine at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said a normal CT scan would only provide a picture of the scarring and the density of tissue. “What you get with the PET and the PET/MR is you get information about how fast the bacteria or the host’s immune cells are taking up glucose, taking up sugar, showing how much information there is in that area. So, it gives you a much better picture of how active the disease is at that point of time.”

The centre is a joint venture between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) and NUS after an agreement was signed in 2008. The cost of setting up the centre is divided between the two organisations.

Currently, CIRC has over 50 clinical projects underway, with some of it focusing on diseases such as neurogenerative disorders, heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. The centre is also collaborating with the NUS tuberculosis research programme on several projects to more efficiently identify, monitor and treat the disease. The MR/PET scanner can be used to accurately examine tuberculosis lesions in the lungs.

The centre will also be the only one in Singapore that can produce and administer PET radiopharmaceuticals — radioactive medical compounds that can used as diagnostic and therapeutic agents — to human subjects. CIRC plans to be able to perform first-in-man studies in future and participate in early stage assessment of such new drugs.

Finance Minister and Deputy Chairman of the National Research Foundation Heng Swee Keat, who officially opened the centre, said that the Government has invested significantly in the health and biomedical sciences, so as to make an impact in developing a vibrant healthcare-related industry here.

The CIRC will support efforts in bridging “bench and bedside”. “As a national research infrastructure, it brings together scientists and clinicians to study the impact of new therapies and innovative devices in human subjects, using novel imaging methods, clinical trials, and validation work. It works

closely with multiple partners, including the industry,” said Mr Heng.

It will also support efforts to make scientific breakthroughs in cost-effective ways. “As a shared research infrastructure, it certainly reduces cost,” he said, adding CIRC fosters closer collaborations between researchers here with global institutions and the private sector.” CHANNEL NEWSASIA

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