Breaking Down Walls With Scientific Breakthroughs

Dr Tan Pei Leng emerged the winner of SGInnovate’s Falling Walls Lab Singapore 2023. She hopes to meet collaborators who can take her research from bench to bedside at the International Summit this November.

AsianScientist (Oct. 10, 2023) – A common second-degree burn from a hot pan may take anywhere from one to three weeks to heal. A third-degree large burn wound could take years and involve multiple surgeries and skin grafting—even then, scarring would be severe. According to a 2019 report, South and Southeast Asia are particularly burdened, with cases making up roughly 30 to 40 percent of the global total.

At the Falling Walls Lab Singapore 2023 pitch competition, Dr Tan Pei Leng presented her research to grow skin cells for large burn wound patients. She described the 11 million burn patients lying in hospital beds with wounds so large they are in constant pain, and elaborated on her work with her PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Tan Lay Poh from Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) School of Materials Science and Engineering.

The event hosted by SGInnovate is the local edition of the Falling Walls Foundation international pitch competition and saw 14 young researchers gathered to present their ground-breaking solutions to society’s greatest challenges like food waste, malnutrition and drug side effects.

On top of a cash prize, Tan also won a trip to Berlin in November where she will attend the Falling Walls Science Summit. She hopes that the summit will allow her to meet other like-minded thinkers and industry players who can help her take her technology to the patients who need it.

Currently, to help heal large burn wounds, doctors transplant a patient’s healthy skin from unaffected areas to wounded areas. In cases where wounds cover over 20 percent of a patient’s body, they may require multiple surgeries over long periods of time due to the scarce availability of healthy skin sites.

Tan hopes to reduce the pain and stress that patients go through in this process. With just a small skin sample, her technology can encapsulate skin cells into microspheres that provide a medium for these cells to grow into a larger sheet of skin that can then be grafted to burn wounds.

“Large burn wounds are very prevalent, not only in Singapore, but worldwide—it can happen to any of us,” she shared. “The next step forward is to see how we can translate this idea from bench to bedside.”

The pitch competition offered Tan and the other participants the opportunity to train and flex their science communication muscles in front of a judging panel of distinguished academics and business leaders. Prior to the event, participants took part in a workshop with one of the judges, Andre Stolz, Co-founder and Managing Director of Budding Innovation to sharpen their pitching skills.

They deployed a variety of presentation techniques to present their work. Other pitches included a method to process mushroom waste and turn it into pet nutrition from National University of Singapore undergraduate Baid Samyak as well as NTU’s Samantha Kwah’s solution to tackle adverse drug reactions with personalized medicine.

“I think science communication is really almost more important nowadays than the actual research itself because you have to be able to convince potential funders of what you’re doing and potential collaborators about the gist of your idea in very short timeframes,” said Dr Suzanne Rentow-Vasu, Regional Project director of EURAXESS Worldwide, ASEAN, and member of the judging panel.

Image: SGInnovate

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Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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