Singapore-led team of Asian cancer researchers wins AACR Team Science Award


Credit: Duke-NUS Medical School

Singapore, March 24, 2018 – For the first time, an Asian team of cancer researchers has won the prestigious American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Team Science Award, an award that honours researchers for their global impact on cancer research. This year's winning team is an international collaboration led by a Singapore team comprising Professors Patrick Tan (Team Leader), Bin Tean Teh, Steve Rozen and colleagues from Duke-NUS Medical School, National Cancer Centre Singapore, Genome Institute of Singapore, and collaborators from Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. Since inception, teams from the US have won the award eight times, and a team from the UK won in 2012.

The focus of the team's research is on cancers that are prominent in Asia but less studied in the West, because such cancers constitute a major global healthcare burden and an unmet medical need. Professor Tan said, "Our research programme was founded on a common realisation — that in Asia, there existed several endemic, highly prevalent, and lethal cancers rarely seen in the West, and that many of these Asian cancers could be linked to specific exposures and environmental agents (e.g. bacteria, viruses, and toxins). We hypothesised that investigating Asian cancers would allow the study of interactions between the environment and cancer in a more direct way compared to Western cancers, and that such investigations could identify better ways to manage Asian cancer and also potentially shed light on Western cancers as well."

Driven by this vision, Professor Tan and colleagues partnered with key cancer scientists and clinicians in the region as part of an ambitious, long term research programme, to identify disrupted pathways in Asian cancers and new therapeutic targets. By dissecting the effects of carcinogenic exposure in these cancers, they also aimed to inform new methods of cancer prevention. Finally, they aimed to leverage their studies of Asian cancers to facilitate a better understanding of other cancers worldwide.

The AACR's decision to award the team for their research focus on Asian cancers is particularly timely and pertinent. Currently, Asia accounts for about 60% of the global population, contributing 44% of all cancer cases, and 51% of global cancer mortality. Moreover, global cancer burden is projected to increase dramatically in Asia. There is thus an urgent need to focus on developing improved treatment for cancer patients, and particularly for patients in Asia.

The team studied numerous cancers, including gastric cancer, Asian-prevalent lymphomas such as natural killer T-cell lymphomas, bile-duct cancers, and cancers associated with exposure to aristolochic acids. Prior to their work, little was known about these cancers. Their work helped to identify new genes and pathways, which if disrupted may represent new avenues for further therapies. For example, the team identified major genetic abnormalities in stomach cancers, a leading cause of global cancer death, and were able to translate these findings into clinical trials targeting these abnormalities. They also showed how parts of DNA affected by carcinogens can be used as screening tools to identify previously undetected carcinogen exposures.

Professor Patrick Casey, Senior Vice Dean of Research at Duke-NUS, noted that "Duke-NUS is cognisant of the importance of forging deep relationships among scientists and institutions, emphasising trust, goodwill and collaborative respect. We firmly support partnerships and have over 130 synergistic research alliances with numerous partners. One outstanding example is this award-winning collaboration between our cancer researchers and their regional counterparts."

Professor Teh added, "We strongly believed that by working as a team, we can make more meaningful and impactful progress compared to working individually."

The collaboration has led to multiple collaborative publications and discoveries in leading peer-reviewed journals, and contributed to the knowledge and understanding of Asian cancers. Their research has also informed government policies. For instance, research led by Professor Rozen on aristolochic acid (AA), a compound found in certain traditional herbal medicines, revealed a potential role for AA exposure in the development of liver cancer. This finding both increased public awareness of the risks of AA exposure and led regulatory agencies to announce stricter policies on use of AA-containing plants.


About AACR and the Team Science Award

The AACR Team Science Award is an internationally prestigious award that recognises an outstanding interdisciplinary research team for its innovative and meritorious science that has advanced our fundamental knowledge of cancer, or has applied existing knowledge to advance the detection, diagnosis, prevention or treatment of cancer. The award was established by the AACR and Eli Lilly and Company to acknowledge and catalyse the growing importance of interdisciplinary teams to the understanding of cancer and/or the translation of research discoveries into clinical cancer applications.

The AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional association related to cancer research, founded in 1907 with more than 34,000 members in over 90 countries (the AACR Annual Meeting regularly attracts about 20,000 attendees). The AACR Scientific awards (including the Team Science award) are one of the most prestigious awards in cancer research, honouring researchers for their global impact on cancer research. Previous AACR awardees have included Nobel Prize (Mario Capecchi, Harald zur Hauzen, Phillip Sharp) and Lasker Prize winners (Janet Rowley, James Allison, William Kaelin).

About the Team Members

There are eleven team members: six from Singapore, one from Japan, two from Thailand, and two from Taiwan. Professor Patrick Tan heads the Programme in Cancer and Stem Cell Biology at Duke-NUS Medical School, and is also Deputy Executive Director at the Biomedical Research Council for Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Professor Bin Tean Teh is Deputy Director (Research) at National Cancer Centre Singapore and a professor at Duke-NUS Medical School. Both Professors Tan and Teh are also Senior Principle Investigators at the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore. Professor Steve Rozen is an Associate Dean of Research Informatics and Director of the Centre for Computational Biology at Duke-NUS Medical School. Professors Tan, Teh and Rozen are long time collaborators, and in 2015, they won the 2015 Singapore President's Science Award for outstanding integrative and translational research in Asian cancer genomics.

The other Singaporean team members are Professor Soon Thye Lim (National Cancer Centre Singapore), Dr Choon Kiat Ong (National Cancer Centre Singapore) and Dr Chiea Chuen Khor (Genome Institute of Singapore, A*STAR). Their regional collaborators are Professor Tatsuhiro Shibata (National Cancer Center, Japan; University of Tokyo, Japan), Associate Professors Chawalit Pairojkul and Narong Khuntikeo (Khon Kaen University, Thailand), and Professors Jacob See-Tong Pang and Sen-Yong Hsieh (Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taiwan).

About Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore

The Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) was established in 2005 as a strategic collaboration between the Duke University School of Medicine, North Carolina, USA, and the National University of Singapore (NUS). Duke-NUS offers a graduate-entry, four-year MD (Doctor of Medicine) training programme, anchored on an innovative model of self-directed learning. The School also offers MD/PhD and PhD programmes.

Duke-NUS has five Signature Research Programmes: Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders, and Health Services and Systems Research.

The collaboration between Duke-NUS and Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) has established an Academic Medical Centre to advance our joint pursuits in clinical care, research and education to transform medicine and improve lives.

For more information, please visit

About the National Cancer Centre Singapore

National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) provides a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to cancer treatment and patient care. We treat almost 70 per cent of the public sector oncology cases, and they are benefiting from the sub-specialisation of our clinical oncologists. NCCS is also accredited by the US-based Joint Commission International for its quality patient care and safety. To deliver among the best in cancer treatment and care, our clinicians work closely with our scientists who conduct robust cutting-edge clinical and translational research programmes which are internationally recognised. NCCS strives to be a global leading cancer centre, and shares its expertise and knowledge by offering training to local and overseas medical professionals.

For more information on NCCS, please visit

About Cancer Science Institute of Singapore

CSI Singapore is a state-of-the-art university research institute affiliated with, and hosted at the National University of Singapore. It was established in 2008, with a "Research Centre of Excellence" grant, one of only five in Singapore, by the National Research Foundation and the Ministry of Education. Professor Daniel G. Tenen, MD, a leader in the field of transcriptional regulation, haematopoiesis, and cancer, was named its founding director.

The institute is an anchor for research expertise in three broad programmes; Cancer Biology & Stem Cells, Experimental Therapeutics, and the RNA Biology Centre; these programmes form expansive platforms for CSI Singapore's focus on key cancer disease cancers in gastric, liver, lung and leukaemia which are endemic in Asian populations. CSI Singapore aims to position Singapore as a global-leader in the field of Biomedical Sciences. Its mission: to conduct a multifaceted and coordinated approach to cancer research, extending from basic cancer studies all the way to experimental therapeutics and in so doing improve cancer treatment.

For more information on CSI Singapore, please visit

About Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit society.

As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by contributing to societal benefits such as improving outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability.

We play a key role in nurturing and developing a diversity of talent and leaders in our Agency and Research Institutes, the wider research community and industry. A*STAR oversees 18 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis.

For more information on A*STAR, please visit

Media Contact

Ms Serene Ong
Duke-NUS Medical School
Tel: 65-6601 3272
Email: [email protected]

Media Contact

Serene Ong
[email protected]

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