To facilitate conversations about the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, Yale-NUS College organised an interactive virtual panel discussion on 7 October 2021, just ahead of World Mental Health Day, which falls on 10 October. Titled “The Long Tail of COVID-19: Global Mental Health Challenges in a Post-Pandemic World”, the panel featured distinguished experts and policymakers specialising in medicine, higher education and social advocacy.
As the end of the pandemic refuses to come into view, the panel discussed the challenges and possible interventions to help mitigate the mental health impact caused by continued economic uncertainty and high stress levels. Among the hardest hit groups are young people, frontline healthcare workers and COVID-19 survivors as well as people with pre-existing mental health conditions or other chronic health issues. But the pandemic has also disproportionately affected people from ethnic minorities and those from the lower socioeconomic strata.
Wrapping up the discussion, the session’s moderator, Professor Tazeen H Jafar, a professor with the Health Services and Systems Research Programme at Duke-NUS, shared three key take-home messages from the discussion:
“Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic and its grave disruptions have had major consequences, particularly for the youth and people who struggle with mental health disorders. An important message from the discussion is about self-care or me time and me time without feeling guilty. I think that is really important for prevention and for mental wellbeing. We can do that by practising the three Rs—routine, recharge, relate—and ARC—that is, acceptance, reflection, connection. We heard a lot about connecting with people and building networks for resilience. And do not allow stigma to prevent you or someone you love from seeking help.”
“Along with the connections that have been established by the School, one of the things that’s really made it successful and added richness to the endeavour is this sort of back-and-forth flow of ideas between the two schools, with people as vehicles. And the only way this is going to work and be sustained over the long term is if both partners are benefiting and I think that’s true for US–Singapore relationships in general as well.”
That’s how Duke-NUS Dean Professor Thomas Coffman summed up the benefits that arise from people-to-people ties during the final US-SG55 Speaker Series panel held on 26 October, before following it up with the example of Duke-NUS’ unique TeamLEAD pedagogy—an innovative, flipped-classroom and team-based approach to delivering medical education, which was pioneered in Singapore and has since been adopted by both the School’s parent universities—NUS and Duke University.
“There are three key challenges for med tech innovation in the Asia Pacific region (and elsewhere). While public and private sector players have learned to collaborate on product development, there are still opportunities to think about how we might better collaborate on process innovations, such as optimising business models for new innovations in healthcare systems.
Secondly, we are still struggling with how to innovate in a highly-regulated environment. Fear of tackling issues such as potential conflict of interest or procurement continues to stand in the way of great innovations reaching patients. We need to learn how to embrace and navigate risks while still holding innovations to high standards of patient safety and care.
And the third challenge is attracting—and developing—local entrepreneurial talent. We need to celebrate entrepreneurship. Concerted efforts are needed to tackle these challenges and the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medicine Centre is eager and well positioned to be part of this collective effort. We not only combine strong research and clinical capabilities, we also focus on implementation cores such as the Centre of Regulatory Excellence and the Health Services Research Institute, which greatly facilitate translation, innovation and commercialisation.”
Associate Professor Chris Laing, Duke-NUS Vice-Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, shared these insights during a panel discussion at the recent Asia-Pacific MedTech Forum about what needs to be done to promote a vibrant med tech start-up ecosystem in Asia. The forum, which focused on Health Future by 2025, was attended by more than 1,700 participants from 33 countries.
New institute leverages biodiversity to promote human health and wellness
During the opening ceremony of the 2021 SingHealth Duke-NUS Scientific Congress, the academic medical partners announced the launch of a new institute. Called the SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Biodiversity Medicine, the new institute will study local and regional plant biodiversity—from their genetic make-up to their nutritional and medicinal values—for use in medicine and health promotion.
“The application of the knowledge of plants to treat disease and promote health has existed for thousands of years, but there is so much more to learn and much potential for us to advance health and wellness through biodiversity medicine. BD-MED will leverage our rich local and regional biodiversity and cutting-edge research capabilities to drive biodiversity studies to positively impact medicine and health, such as identifying plant components to accelerate drug discovery or manipulating plant biology to enhance their nutritional qualities. I am excited to see how the Institute’s work will benefit not only our patients but also the population for generations to come,” said Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth.
The Biodiversity Medicine Institute will focus on three signature research programmes in herbal, food and urban biodiversity and their impact on medicine, nutrition and wellness.
Professor Thomas Coffman, Dean, Duke-NUS Medical School, said, “BD-MED's research programmes expand our capabilities for preventing and treating disease by leveraging on the concept of ‘Food as Medicine’ to improve patient and population health. This Institute builds on the combined expertise of clinicians and researchers at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, expanding our ecosystem to accelerate breakthroughs in novel areas of medicine.”
To commemorate the launch, a team from the Institute and scientists from the A*STAR’s Genome Institute of Singapore unveiled the genomic make-up of Singapore’s national flower, the Papilionanthe Miss Joaquim. The orchid’s genome consists of approximately 33,000 genes, and one of the plant extracts called vandaterosides is known to have biological activities that slow down the skin ageing process.
“Progression in science and medicine is often tied back to the environment and ecosystems we live in, and biodiversity medicine research will have a far-reaching impact on society. Tapping on the wealth of biodiversity in Southeast Asia and Singapore, my team and I hope to delve deep into studying the genetic make-up, nutritional and medicinal benefits of local and regional plants to better understand, prevent and fight diseases and even contribute to environmental and food sustainability,” said Professor Teh Bin Tean, Director, SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Biodiversity Medicine.
The new Institute launched with the backing of Verdant Foundation, which made a $5 million gift to support the Institute’s research programmes.
Ching Jianhong appointed Vice President of the Singapore Society for Mass Spectrometry
“During my term, I will try to raise awareness of mass spectrometry use, especially in the fields of proteomics and metabolomics, among academic, industry and governmental sectors. Mass spec and the omics have much to contribute in the fields of med tech, healthcare devices and even exciting initiatives like the National Precision Medicine Programme and the novel food sector. My hope is that all of us mass spectrometrists in Singapore will unite and contribute to a better future for society and people.”
Ching Jianhong, an assistant professor at Duke-NUS and a director of the School’s Metabolomics Research facility, on his election as Vice President of the Singapore Society for Mass Spectrometry.
Duke-NUS faculty on supporting younger researchers in their career plans
In a career feature published by Nature, Shirish Shenolikar, an emeritus professor at Duke-NUS, and his graduate student, Catherine Goh, talked about creating a supportive environment for younger researchers to pursue their career ambitions, no matter the views of the principal investigator (PI). Goh, who always dreamed of working in commercial science, found that as her PI, Shenolikar was more than supportive, even helping her secure a postdoctoral position at a biotech company in Germany.
“If you want your folks to succeed, you’ve got to get involved,” said Shenolikar, who was among an early group of faculty members who moved to Duke-NUS when the medical school was first set up.