Singapore Confirms Commitment to Genetics and Genomics with Two Big Launches
Singapore is poised for prominence in genetics and genomics – and the move toward personalized medicine.
Researchers at the Genome Institute of Singapore recently created the world’s largest genetic data bank of Asian populations. The country also launched a new center for genomic medicine with the SingHealth Duke-NUS Genomic Medicine Centre.
Individually, each of these achievements will bring about big things for genomic research and medicine. But together, they can propel patient care into another realm and substantiate the shift to precision medicine.
Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS)
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, recently presented a grant to the Genome Institute of Singapore (under the Human Cell Atlas program) to fund genome mapping of Asian subpopulations.
The endowment from CZI will prove instrumental as scientists and doctors work to better diagnose rare diseases and find the causes of chronic illnesses based on whole-genome sequencing of some 5K Singaporeans.
This timing of this database couldn’t be better given the lack of Asian genetic information in databases around the world.
The team at GIS was able to identify 98.3 million genetic variants across Singaporean genomes. More than half of these had not been previously represented. This is crucial, because data about a patient’s genome can facilitate precision medicine.
Professor Patrick Tan, executive director at GIS, explains.
"To be able to identify who's at most risk of developing chronic disease and who will best respond to a particular therapy, we can allocate the right drugs to the right patients at the right time."
Professor Liu Jianjun, deputy executive director and senior group leader of human genetics at GIS, says the database is a milestone for Singapore and all countries in Asia.
"Now, we have a map. Different groups can pick up the map and study it in more detail, read and interpret it."
SingHealth Duke-NUS Genomic Medicine Centre (SDGMC)
Genetic abnormalities and mutations are often inherited and can be the cause of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. So, it’s vital to recognize and react to the genetic elements of each person to diagnose specific diseases and develop “customized” treatment for it. This is the essence of precision medicine.
With the opening of SDGMC, doctors can provide specialized genetics care and facilitate genomics research and education across SingHealth institutes to expand care for patients and families with genetic diseases.
Additionally, SDGMC will initiate genetics clinics in SingHealth hospitals and institutions where patients and family members with genetic disorders or genetically-linked conditions can go through risk assessment, genetic testing, and genetic counseling.
These specialty genetics clinics will alleviate the need for patients to get a referral to a separate site for genetics services, which improves communication between clinical and genetics teams and enhances precision care and support for patients and family members.
Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth shares, “The SingHealth Duke-NUS Genomic Medicine Centre will seamlessly integrate genomics care into our healthcare institutions, providing crucial genomics perspectives and timely intervention across medical specialties. This will allow for more accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment for patients with genetic diseases, and more effective risk assessment, monitoring and intervention for their family members who are at risk.”
Beyond better patient care, the SDGMC will establish a registry of genetic disorders to help physicians and researchers recognize disease trends, develop treatment plans, and follow patient outcomes to better manage genetic disorders. The Centre will also work with faculty at Duke-NUS Medical School to research new biomarkers and genetic disorders for improved diagnosis and treatment.