IMCB played a major role in my career. My first exposure to IMCB and academic research was during my internship attachment to Prof William Chia’s laboratory during the summer of 1992. IMCB was located in a pretty glass building on top of the hill in NUS. I was so impressed with IMCB that I did not hesitate to agree when Dr Xiaohang Yang from Prof Chia’s laboratory asked me if I would like to work as a laboratory technologist with him. I returned to IMCB a year later after I graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic. Xiaohang was a great mentor who is technically very competent and taught me many things that served me well throughout my research career. My daily exposure to the scientists (especially Prof William Chia, Prof Wanjin Hong and their laboratory members) and the research in IMCB was an invaluable experience for me. I was really proud to be working in the same building with many top-notch scientists. However, I soon realized that my limited education and experience did not allow me to do anything more than just provide technical support. Knowing my interest and aspirations, Prof Chia encouraged me to go for undergraduate studies. After much deliberation, I decided to go to the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom to further my studies majoring in molecular biology. I returned to IMCB 2 years later in late 1997, but this time as a Ph.D. student. My Ph.D. work done in Prof Peter Lobie’s lab was in endocrinology and centered on the study of signaling by human growth hormone, which is not only involved in normal growth and metabolism but also implicated in the generation of cancer (especially breast cancer). In addition to all the technical and intellectual aspects to being a successful and productive researcher, I also learnt how to deal with the ups and downs of research and to be independent. The failures and bumps during the journey were demoralizing, but it was good training for me.
After completing my Ph.D. in early 2003, I went on to postdoctoral training at the Department of Neuroscience of Johns Hopkins University in the United States. During my postdoctoral training, I worked on adult neural stem cells, which are now known to exist in all mammals studied, including humans, and I also obtained an A*STAR international Fellowship. I made a number of novel observations about the production of new neurons in the adult brain, which have helped to establish this once-controversial topic.
I am currently a faculty in the Neuroscience and Behavior Disorder (NBD) program at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore. My laboratory is now over 4 years old and there are currently 11 members plus a few interns at various times. The research focus of my group includes understanding the development of stem cells and newborn neurons (neurogenesis) in normal and diseased brains (such as neurodevelopmental disorder - Rett Syndrome, autism and neurodegenerative disorder - Parkinson’s Disease). We are also studying the functional integration of resident and implanted stem cells in these brains. As it is now known that neurogenesis in the hippocampus has roles in learning and memory, we are also interested in finding out the mechanisms involved. Other than rodent models and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs - an embryonic stem cell like cell type that is reprogrammed from skin cells, that carries the genomic information of the donor of the skin cells), we also use zebrafish to decipher the roles of proteins of interest in brain development. These basic and translational research work are funded by Competitive Research Program from National Research Foundation (CRP-NRF) and also by Abbott Nutrition and GlaxoSmithKline.
The pretty glass building, the cosmopolitan community, the state-of-the-art equipment, the many brilliant scientists, the competitive research and the late nights and weekends at work in IMCB are all fond memories for me. I would like to take this opportunity to express my utmost gratitude to the people during my time in IMCB for their mentorship, friendship as well as critical advice and suggestions.