29 November 2006

Stem cell research in Singapore

Stem cell research is doing well in Singapore, despite what Yawning Bread thought. Here is a guest essay that presents an insider's view that is much more positive about the work being done here by locals and foreigners alike. Guest essay.


Anonymous said...

Hello, I just thought this satirical commentary regarding the report that most biomedical researchers are on local pay might be interesting to read.


It just confirms what we already know, statistics say what we want it to say.

BL said...

Being in the same area of research and also a scientist, I don't dispute some of the points made by the authors on the US scientists leaving soon back to US when the legislation of stem cell funding is resolved.

In terms of research publications, I think that based on research publications per institute and their impact factor, some of the A-STAR RIs are on par with those I have previously worked in, for example, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

However, despite the rosy picture, I am skeptical of the claim about the pay of local scientists vs foreign scientists. For that matter, I have done some private research on my pay scale (being a local researcher) and I am pretty sure that I am paid 75% of my market rate (taking into account the discount rates and also the tax I have to pay). Perhaps, I like to query the authors to present the following numbers that might make the pay:

1. What are the nationalities of the scientists who are taking localized payment rates? Are they split well into Europe, US and Asia?

2. Does their pay exclude maintenance costs (like expats package on accommodation and healthcare)? If so, how many of the senior management are taking that kind of package?

3. What is the take home pay for the local scientists?

Here is a situation which the expats take a localized pay. Let's us a thought experiment to do this: If you have an institute made up of 10 Americans, 10 Europeans, 30 Indian, 30 mainland Chinese scientists, 40 from any other countries and excluding Singaporeans in the equation, it is likely that 100 scientists from China, India and other countries (Malaysia, Indonesia) are receiving local pay, and that makes 100/120 = 83.3% of the people receiving localized rate pays.

Dr Oz bloke said...

"And curiously, the average Singaporean seems to know about biomedical sciences and does appreciate stem cell research with a positive attitude - a mindset that proves to be quite rare, yet again, in Bavaria or Carolina."

I find that last comment betrays the writer totally. What is the average Singaporean to him/her?

I am quite sure this person is out of touch with what and who Singaporeans are.

While the facts and statistics seem to support his/her rejoinder, it is easy to find other facts and statistics to support Yawning bread's original article too.

Anonymous said...

I believe the biomedical sector's contribution of 10% of the economy is from manufacturing of medical supplies. Hardly any of this is actually the result of research done locally.

Yes, research institutes existed from way back (but was this in any meaningful way?), and there have been some noteworthy achievements (but any more than the usual few?). Nonetheless I don't think this article has managed to discredit the notion that we've severely overpaid to further biomedical research in Singapore. It is probably what it costs to get spanking new state-of-the-art facilities, attract the superstar researchers, etc, but did we need to go to that extent?

Typically, when a scientist is famous, it would be because of work done years ago and he or she would have done his or her best work already. I get the feeling that we're just buying names. (I'll exclude the latest couple from Maryland (?), because they did go on record to say that one of their primary objectives was to train young researchers.)

Anonymous said...

Singapore's biomedical sciences reminds me of current-day Real Madrid -- so flushed with money and superstars, such mediocre results.

Jimmy Mun said...

The government didnt really warm up to this biomedical business until 7 or 8 years ago. Twenty years ago, when I was still schooling, it was pounded repeatedly that only those who wanted to be doctors need to study biology. It would be a total waste of time for everybody else. Everybody else should concentrate on maths and physics, because engineering was the patriotic profession. Up till 10 years ago, NUS Faculty of Science, was still the faculty with the lowest admission criteria. If there was any local success in 1994, it probably happened in spite of the government's lukewarm attitude, rather than as a result of the government's enthusiasm.

Let us not forget, how the government's biomedical drive turn into a life science drive - the agrobiology aspect of that was totally massacred, probably prematurely, along with one RI that I have trouble recalling.

Once the government warmed up to anything, the entire nation gets mobilised. Once, biology teachers from my secondary school till JC will repeat on and on why someone like me without a realistic shot at doing medicine shouldnt waste time doing biology, now we are teaching every single primary school kid about life science. Of course every tom, dick and harry in the streets know about stem cells, the same way an entire generation of people in China knows about that little red book of Mao.

teck soon said...

"The mission concluded that the challenge to Western pre-eminence in stem cell science from China, Singapore and South Korea is real."

Since that report came out in 2004, before the S. Korea cloning debacle, I doubt many would see S. Korea as a "challenge" any longer.

I certainly hope Singapore has safeguards in place to prevent that sort of thing from happening here. Without academic freedom in other fields (such as political science), perception of academia in Singapore as a whole suffers. Does this affect the quality of scientists willing to work here?

Anonymous said...

i haven really met a home-grown scientist passion in research...i think its more anything rather than science research, rather..

Anonymous said...

first, why did the authors not use their real names?

second, maybe they would like to comment on the late start of the life science initiative; why was it necessary to have a crash programme, instead of a more gradual growth starting from much earlier?

Anonymous said...

The point made about Korea by Teck Soon is interesting: yes, they did shoot themselves in the foot by faking several research results, they (or their "hero" Hwang) did it so thoroughly that Korea is out of this business for good. HELLO! That will indirectly benefit Singapore in the long run - mind that China as well lags behind Singapore/US in terms of research quality and credibility. In Singapore, there are sure more safeguards: cultural, institutional, legal, AND Singapore research community looks to much more divers/international compared to Korea/China. Fraud strives best in hirarchical, enclosed monocultures.

How might academic freedom (or the lack of it in other fields) affect quality of people working here, hard to say what. I dare to say that Biomedical research seems to me much less "academic/creative" than some other fields, you can compare it more to engineering rather than politics, arts, etc. Yet, yes of course the more freedom, the better academia doesin general.

One thing is sad to see: even if something new like stem sells research effort in Singapore works at least ok, maybe really well, it is seen negatively by many naysayers JUST because it was pushed by the gahmen. That alone is not a good reason...

Anonymous said...

To the above, dun underestimate China, there maybe some discredibility in their research, but overall, they made many important milestones in their invention. In fact, within 50 yrs, about the same as the yrs of our independence, they are making space shuttle and nuclear weapons themselves, these research are very involved despite others has achieved it earlier. Scientists know well, repeating other's work is not easy either. What have we really achieve in terms of invention for these 50 yrs that are able to raise the eyebrows of the whole world.. hmm i haven come across.

Dennis said...

There are so many articles by reputable publications available online which portray Singapore's foray into stem cell research and the life sciences in very positive light.

Just do a google on stem cell research Singapore

One of my favorites from the New York Times:


The company ES Cell International is mentioned in the article. Very few Singaporeans know that this company is really cutting-edge in its research. I just listened to the CEO of the US company specializing in the same area give a presentation. He conceded that this Singapore company is really world class.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dennis and all, yes this article is interesting but a few months old, there is a more recent one I found


Further, have a look at the press release section of the mebtioned company:


You are right, not many Singaporeans are aware of all this progress I wonder why.