To bridge the gap between science and clinical medicine, scientists and clinicians need to come together to share ideas, knowledge and expertise. This is the ethos behind Singapore’s Institute of Medical Biology (IMB). Founded in 2007, it is one of the Biomedical Research Council’s institutes under the country’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). “IMB is an enthusiastic team of scientists with shared goals, good collaborative networks in Singapore and overseas, and a strong collegial attitude,” says Professor Birgit Lane, IMB’s Executive Director. “Our research aims to understand disease mechanisms, and we work closely with clinical collaborators.”
IMB’s research focuses on skin biology, stem cells and genetic diseases. “These areas often overlap,” says Dr Vandana Ramachandran, Head of Administration, “so, for example, we have strong research programmes in skin stem cells and in genetic skin disease.” With its portfolio of technically innovative projects and high-impact publications, IMB researchers are always looking for opportunities for practical translation of their scientific discoveries.
Interest in skin biology is growing, and 60 per cent of IMB’s scientists are now involved in skin-related projects. This led IMB to become a founding member of the Skin Research Institute of Singapore in 2013. IMB’s research attracts much interest from industry, and many multinationals, such as L’Oréal and Procter & Gamble, have collaborating labs on the same campus as IMB.
“Working successfully with industry is a matter of understanding what industry needs to know,” says Dr Ramachandran, “and where this coincides with our own research interests and skills. If there is a good match, we can have a win–win collaboration.”
IMB carries out cutting-edge fundamental research leading to clinical and consumer applications. “Our discovery research on DNA damage, stem-cell control, stress, cell migration, melanocytes or differentiation goes hand-in-hand with clinical unmet needs in skin cancer, chronic wounds, birth defects and skin diseases,” says Professor Lane, “whilst also synergising with industry’s consumer care interests – for instance in skin ageing, pigment irregularities or dry skin treatments.”
AN INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTION
More than half of IMB’s 200-strong workforce comes from outside Singapore, mainly Europe, the USA, China, India and Australia, leading to a lively, diverse community. Most are doctoral and post-doctoral students, drawn to IMB because of its clinical and industrial connections, and because of the expertise and the learning opportunities available through working with some of the best investigators in the field.
“We have 22 research labs here, mostly overseen by top international scientists, so our PhD and post-doctoral students can collaborate and network at the highest level,” says Dr Ramachandran. “Post-doctoral students mostly come for a three-year contract, but often stay much longer. We help scientists and clinicians to work closely together, to support, inform and refine each other’s strengths and specialisations. IMB’s research helps to build bridges between basic science and clinical medicine that are so necessary to nurture an innovative and productive biomedical industry here in Singapore.”