Saturday, 11 April 2015

[Straits Times] Life sciences still worth investment

WHILE I agree with Dr Anne Chong Su Yan's perspectives on promoting the field of materials science ("Focus more on materials science, product design"; Wednesday), the role of life sciences should not be downplayed.

Life sciences cover an enormous span of disciplines, such as genetics, proteomics (the study of proteins), immunology and cancer therapy.

To enhance and maintain Singapore's position in the life sciences, the exchange of ideas, innovations and talent with the rest of the world is necessary.

Sending promising students overseas to work with prominent leaders is a cost-effective policy. It connects Singapore with the rest of the world in an intimate way and ensures the best development of our local talent.

It is true that the road in life-science research is often long.

However, life sciences intertwine with many other fields - including materials science - and this process brings forth many technological advances.

One would be misinformed to say that life sciences contribute nothing to manufacturing during incubation.

It would be akin to claiming that all the preparations to put a man on the moon would yield nothing tangible for the rest of the human race.

To give another example, Professor Ehud Gazit, from the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at Tel Aviv University, was researching peptides to develop a cure for Alzheimer's disease when he discovered a way to synthesise bio-organic nanocrystals that can be used in fast-charging batteries.

This technology is now used by a spin-off company, StoreDot, to create cellphone batteries that can charge 100 times faster than conventional batteries.

Finally, the concerns over "the indefinite extension of lifespans without the corresponding increase in working capacity" are misguided on two accounts.

First, life sciences, in general, do not blindly pursue the extension of lifespans.

Instead, they aim to improve the quality of life when one becomes burdened by disease or injury.

Second, a higher quality of life during sickness and old age is a key factor in helping people increase their productivity and extend their career lifespans, too.

Far-sightedness, patience and hard work have brought Singapore to its current level of success and prosperity.

With these traits, Singaporeans will continue to succeed in the life sciences, and reap the benefits.

Lim Teck Chuan (Dr)