A*STAR and RIKEN celebrate 10 years of Research Collaboration

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The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institute in the natural sciences, have marked a 10-year milestone of research partnership.

A*STAR and RIKEN inked their first MOU September 2005 to encourage more opportunities for scientific exchange between Singapore and Japan. The MOU has since been renewed three times. For a timeline of milestones, refer to Annex A.

RIKEN established its first overseas international liaison office in 2006, attesting to its long-term commitment to the partnership with Singapore. The partnership has catalysed joint projects in fields ranging from the biomedical sciences to the physical sciences and engineering domains (enclosed within and in Annex B). This partnership has also offered opportunities to broaden scientific exchange through RIKEN’s prestigious summer programmes in brain science and immunology.

The most recent renewal of the MOU will further build on the existing partnership to include mutual areas of interest in material science. This will continue to encourage sharing of ideas, co-advancing scientific capabilities, broadening research networks, and developing research talent.

Collaborative projects between A*STAR and RIKEN

  • Biomaterials and hydrogels: Dr Loh Xian Jun from A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) and Prof Yoshihiro Ito from RIKEN have successfully pioneered a new method of cell detachment using a novel temperature-sensitive biomaterial. This method has many applications in basic research, allowing scientists to better study adult human stem cells more efficiently. Currently, the process requires complicated chemical synthesis techniques whereas the new approach uses a “Drop-and-Dry” coating method. This method allows non-chemists to prepare their own temperature responsive cell culture surface for non-enzymatic detachment. This method will simplify experiments and facilitate the understanding of the cell differentiation process..
  • Identification of novel immune cell subset: Dr Florent Ginhoux from A*STAR’s Singapore Immunology Network (SIgN) is collaborating with Dr Ichiro Taniuchi from the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences, to characterize novel lymphoid populations in the epidermis. Tapping on IMS’s strength in generating gene-manipulated mice and on SIgN’s flow cytometry and bioinformatics analyses of small cell populations, the collaboration identified a novel lymphoid cell subset in the epidermis in mice and humans. This finding, which will soon be published in Nature Scientific Reports, has provided new insights into the skin’s immune system and will deepen our understanding of the physiological and pathological roles of these new cell types during immune responses at the interface between our body and the environment.

Mr Lim Chuan Poh, Chairman A*STAR, said: “I am pleased that A*STAR’s and RIKEN’s longstanding partnership has catalysed many opportunities for collaboration in R&D between Singapore and Japan. We will continue to build on the complementary research capabilities of both countries through joint projects and scientific exchange. I look forward to many more fruitful years of collaboration.”

Dr Hiroshi Matsumoto, President of RIKEN, said: “RIKEN’s collaborations with Singapore through A*STAR have been extremely meaningful to us. A major mission of science today is to ensure the continued survival of humanity, and this mission cannot be accomplished without international cooperation. I strongly hope that our partnership will continue to develop, leading to important research breakthroughs that will benefit all of humanity.”

ANNEX A

TIMELINE OF MILESTONES BETWEEN A*STAR AND RIKEN

Date Milestone
September 2005 A*STAR and RIKEN sign their first MOU for scientific collaboration, focusing on life sciences and biotechnology.
April 2006 The first international RIKEN liaison office opens outside Japan in Biopolis.
May 2007 A*STAR and RIKEN host their first Joint Symposium on Immunology and Developmental Biology in Singapore.
July 2007 A*STAR sends its first batch of National Science Scholarships (BS) scholars for RIKEN’s international summer programme in Japan, a practice that continues every year.
March 2008 A*STAR and RIKEN renew MOU, expanding fields of collaboration to include science and engineering research.
March 2009 A*STAR and RIKEN host their second Joint Symposium on Physical Materials and Devices; Photonics and Nano-optics; Synthesis and Catalysis; and Biomaterials and Devices.
March 2011 A*STAR and RIKEN renew MOU a second time.
September 2011 Prof Ryoji Noyori, then-President of RIKEN, visits Fusionopolis for the first time, meeting A*STAR to exchange views on several S&T policy issues.
April 2014 A*STAR and RIKEN renew MOU a third time.
August  2015 A*STAR and RIKEN commemorate their 10th anniversary of research collaboration and host their third Joint Symposium on Advanced Molecular Materials.

ANNEX B

EXAMPLES OF PROJECT COLLABORATIONS

i)             Creating New Hydrogels and Novel Biomaterials

A*STAR RIKEN
Dr Loh Xian Jun

Senior Scientist, Institute for Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)

Dr Yoshihiro Ito

Chief Scientist, Nano Medical Engineering Laboratory

Expertise is in the synthesis of novel biomaterials Expertise is in stem cell culture, surface characterization and substrate fabrication

The collaboration between Dr Loh and Prof Ito’s group has been ongoing since 2008. The A*STAR-RIKEN group was successful in pioneering a new method of cell detachment from culture surfaces using a novel temperature-sensitive biomaterial. This technique allows cell biologists to save valuable time in cultivating and studying adult stem cells for research purposes such as the elucidation of gene functions leading to cell differentiation. The research of stem cells in general has crucial clinical implications in the area of gene therapy.

As a result of the collaboration, Dr Loh’s lab has also developed novel temperature-sensitive polymers known as thermogels. The structure of these gels allows them to be used as vehicles for controlled drug delivery. He improved on their functions by introducing biodegradable linkages into the thermogelling polymer chain, resulting in polymers that could break down into smaller units over time. Compared to other efforts, the new thermogels minimise the use of synthetic polymers and thus reduce the risk of unknown side effects on the body.

ii)            Safer X-Rays – Improving T-Rays for Potential Applications in Diagnostics and Security

A*STAR RIKEN
Dr Gong Yandong

Scientist, Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R)

Dr Hiroaki Minamide

Team Leader, Tera-Photonics Research Team, RIKEN Center for Advanced Photonics

Expertise in Terahertz polarization, focus of collaboration is on the polarization sub-system and algorithms Strength lies in basic terahertz frequency domain spectroscopy (THz-FDS) system

Terahertz (THz) is an underexplored band of light located between microwave and infrared frequency in the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. THz radiation, also known as T-rays, produces images faster than X-rays and has a lower photon energy, making it safer and more efficient for use in various applications, such as in the detection of cancerous tumours for non-invasive, high-sensitivity medical diagnostics, or the detection of concealed objects during security screening.

However, most conventional THz systems can only provide basic parameters for the user. In this project with RIKEN, the researchers demonstrated the world-first polarimetric THz-FDS system. The ability to provide polarization information makes the THz system more powerful in detection and sensing. Out of this collaboration, the team also developed a new device on the market – the achromatic Terahertz waveplate. This device can be adapted for use in conventional THz systems, allowing THz polarization to be manipulated for greater control and more precise results. The THz polarization technology has been licensed to two local SMEs in the imaging and photonics industry.

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Scientist-entrepreneur-manager-journalist: -Co-founder, Author; Former Assistant Editor and Director, Biotechin.Asia, Biotech Media Pte. Ltd.; -Founder & CEO, SciGlo (www.sciglo.com); -Programme Management Officer, SBIC, A*STAR (former Research Fellow). --Sandhya graduated from University of Madras, India (B.Sc Microbiology and M.Sc Biotechnology) and received her Ph.D from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She worked on oxidative stress in skin, skeletal, adipose tissue and cardiac muscle for a decade from 2006-2016. She is currently working as a Programme Management Officer handling projects and grants at Singapore Bioimaging Consortium (SBIC), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Earlier to this she was a Research Fellow in the Fat Metabolism and Stem Cell Group at SBIC. Sandhya was also the Vice President and Publicity Chair of A*PECSS (A*STAR Post Doc Society) (2014-2016). Recently she founded a platform for scientists - SciGlo (www.sciglo.com) and is a startup mentor at Vertical VC (Finland). She is an ardent lover of science and enjoys globe trotting and good vegetarian food.