Australia and Singapore collaborate on immunology research

30 June, 2006

Singapore's Agency forScience, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and The Australian National University have agreed to collaborate on immunology research.

A*STAR’s Centre for Molecular Medicine (CMM) and the Australian Phenomics Facility based at The Australian National University (APF ANU) have established an immunology research partnership focusing on autoimmune diseases, including Type 1 Diabetes.

A Research Collaboration Agreement (RCA) and Service Agreement (SA) have been signed by Associate Professor Kong-Peng Lam, Acting Executive Director of A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council (BMRC) and Professor Ian Chubb AC, Vice Chancellor, ANU at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at ANU in Canberra, Australia.

The RCA and SA were signed in the presence of Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong.  The partnership in leading edge biomedical research represents a new milestone in the bilateral relationship Singapore shares with Australia.  It will yield new knowledge and understanding in immunology and pave the way for other research collaborations between the two countries.

“This partnership further cements the close collaborative relationship ANU has with Singapore and will enhance research efforts in both countries,” Professor Chubb said.

The collaborative research programme will focus on understanding the causes and manifestations of Type 1 Diabetes and other autoimmune and immunopathological disorders.  It will study the functions of genes and proteins that are involved in immune tolerance and how their dysfunctions could lead to the failure of an individual’s immune system to recognise its own cells and tissues and result in immune cells attacking self organs and tissues - a phenomenon known as autoimmune disease.

For example, in Type 1 Diabetes, immune cells attack the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, thereby affecting an individual’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels. Other examples of autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.

The insight to be gained on the mechanisms leading to autoimmune diseases may enable the identification of predictive or diagnostic markers as well as the development of therapeutics to treat such diseases.

Professor Chris Goodnow, ANU Federation Fellow, Chief Scientific Officer of the APF and an expert in the field of immune tolerance, said, "This is an exciting opportunity to bring together world-class expertise in Singapore and Australia, and focus it on cutting-edge problems at the interface between immunology and genomics. The exchange of scientists and skills fostered by this program will deliver great synergies."

Associate Professor Lam, Principal Coordinator of the Immunology group at CMM, said “Immunology is a critical field for Singapore’s push towards biomedical science research as it is closely linked to many clinical conditions such as autoimmune diseases, allergy, infections and cancer. The partnership with ANU will also serve as an important link for the cross-training of students and scientists in Australia and Singapore.”

This collaboration culminates from A*STAR Chairman Mr Philip Yeo’s visit to Australia last July when the A*STAR delegation visited ANU and several other leading research institutions, including the Garvan Institute in Sydney, Walter Eliza Hall Institute and the Howard Florey Institute in Melbourne and the University of Queensland in Brisbane. The bilateral interactions have since intensified with reciprocal visits from ANU, the Howard Florey Institute and the University of Queensland to Singapore to further explore research collaborations and training.