Global leader in eye research

Photo above:  Staff involved in some of Seri's new projects include researchers (from left) Eranga Vithana, senior principal scientist and associate director of basic and experimental sciences; Jodhbir Mehta, head of the tissue engineering and stem cells research group; and Tina Wong, head of the ocular therapeutics and drug delivery research group.

SINGAPORE - Founded in 1997 with just 11 employees, the Singapore Eye Research Institute (Seri) now has 192 staff, and plans to double its strength over the next decade.

It does more than 90 per cent of eye research here, and its prolific output has catapulted Singapore into the global top spot in the field, ahead of heavyweight eye research centres in the United States and Britain.

According to Web of Science, an online academic citation index, Seri is among the top four publishers of ophthalmology-related publications worldwide, alongside the University of London's Moorfields eye hospital, and the Johns Hopkins and Harvard universities in the US.

The journal International Ophthalmology has also highlighted Singapore as the leading contributor of publications per population worldwide.

By December last year, Seri conducted more than 850 eye-related studies, received over $120 million in competitive grants, published more than 1,400 scientific papers, received 200 awards for its work and registered 37 patents for its inventions.

It is also punching above its weight in other areas of research.

For instance, it has found a way to reliably predict diseases such as stroke, diabetes, hypertension, dementia and kidney disease by looking at retinal blood vessel damage.

A research study that analysed the retinal images of 15,000 patients, combined with the person's age and blood pressure, was able to predict a stroke with 80 per cent accuracy.

This method is now being tested in some clinics, but the project is still several years away from completion.

With just $3 million in annual core funding from the Ministry of Health, Seri competes with other groups here and overseas for additional funding, and is hoping to raise more money through endowment grants for research.

It has also run out of space, and there are plans to house the institute together with the Singapore National Eye Centre in a new building, so that researchers can remain in close contact with the doctors who see about 275,000 patients every year.

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