8 scientists win grants to turn ideas into prototypes

SINGAPORE - The researcher who invented a precision probe for cancer tumour surgery was one of eight scientists who received about $1.8 million in total from the National Research Foundation (NRF) to develop their ideas.

The impetus for the probe came from the need to remove tumours completely while protecting healthy tissue in patients, thereby reducing the need for follow-up surgery.

When surgeons remove breast cancer tumours, they usually cut out a 2mm margin of healthy tissue as well, to make sure all the cancerous cells are excised.

But because there are no tools to help them precisely gauge this 2mm margin during surgery, they may cut too little healthy tissue, resulting in the need for additional surgery.

To prevent this, Assistant Professor Liu Quan from Nanyang Technological University came up with an idea last year for a surgical probe which uses near infrared light as a tool to alert surgeons to the 2mm margin.

"If the device works, we can reduce the need for patients to have additional surgery and also help the surgeons to do their work more confidently," he said.

Other ideas which received funding include a more efficient method to purify water contaminated with oil; and new membranes to remove poisonous dyes from the textile industry's waste water.

Each of the eight scientists received up to $250,000 and has up to a year to produce commercial prototypes.

The NRF's eighth, and latest, proof-of-concept grant call attracted 45 submissions in total. A 22-member judging panel - which included representatives from local firms, research institutes and universities - selected the winners.

Projects were assessed on a range of criteria such as innovation, market potential, manufacturing ability and potential for spin-offs.

Of the eight winning ideas, five were in engineering, two in pharmaceutical and biotechnology and one in medical device technology.

The NRF's chief executive, Professor Low Teck Seng, noted that "the process of taking technology from the lab to the marketplace is fraught with challenges". He added: "By seeding many promising ideas, hopefully, we will help grow a critical mass of start-ups, some of which may take off to become global high-tech companies in Singapore."

The next proof-of-concept grant call will be open for submissions later this month.

zengkun@sph.com.sg


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