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September 20, 2017

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NRF funds spur leading research in Singapore

The Straits Times--For decades, gastric cancer has been a silent killer, sneaking up on more than 700,000 unsuspecting victims in Asia every year and surfacing only when patients have little chance of recovery.

But in recent years, Singapore scientists have edged closer to uncovering the sinister cancer early.

One method — a simple blood test — could potentially detect the cancer even before symptoms start to surface, simply by measuring the levels of micro-RNA, which are the chemicals that help regulate genes.

Research into gastric cancer was on Friday highlighted as one of the bright stars in Singapore's research push, as the country's research funding body, the National Research Foundation (NRF), unveiled a record SG$19 billion (US$13.17 billion) budget for the next five years.

Over the past 25 years, SG$40 billion has been pumped into R&D here, and it has borne fruit, creating thousands of jobs and propelling Singapore to world leader status in areas ranging from water treatment to eye and stomach cancer research, said the NRF in a review last month.

Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University and National University Singapore, for one, have created membranes that mimic a protein found in all living things called aquaporin. It can purify water at lower pressures than is required for conventional polymeric membranes, making water treatment cheaper.

At the Singapore Eye Research Institute (Seri), researchers discovered a method to put the brakes on myopia, which afflicts eight in 10 people here by the time they are adults, just through an eyedrop.

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