A S$25 million research project, described as the largest ever in Singapore, will focus on gastric or stomach cancer, it has been announced.
In Singapore, gastric cancer (or stomach cancer) is the 4th most common cancer among men and 6th among women, says the Singapore Cancer Society.
It occurs most frequently in men and women above 40 years old, and is more common in Chinese than Malay or Indian.
There is no scientific conclusion of the actual cause of gastric cancer, people with family history of gastric cancer, high consumption of smoked and salted food, lack of Vitamin C, and existence of a bacterium called Helicobactor Pylori are known to be risk factors of gastric cancer.
If gastric cancer is detected at early stage, it is a curable disease. This makes understanding the nature of gastric cancer, its prevention and early detection essential to reduce the risk of gastric cancer, the society says.
Each year, 600 people are diagnosed with it and 400 die from it.
But these numbers could soon be reduced if the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium achieves results through its new five-year research project.
It is bringing together clinicians and researchers from four public hospitals, two universities, and leading research institutes such as the Genome Institute of Singapore.
Says Yong Ying-I, Permanent Secretary, Health Ministry, Co-Chair, Biomedical Science Executive Committee, "Gastric cancer is a major killer and if they are able to bring together different expertise, it will be of great benefit to patients...so this is why the Ministry of Health is extremely excited about this project."
At the National University of Singapore, a cohort study involving 4000 people will hopefully allow researchers to identify bio markers of gastric cancer.
This could mean that in future, the risk of getting gastric cancer can be determined by a blood test.
Currently, many die from the disease because it is detected too late.
Research would hopefully make it easier for patients to be screened early.
At the National Cancer Centre, researchers will be looking at cancer-causing genes.
With enough information, they could develop personalised treatment plans for different patients with different genes, thereby increasing the chances of survival.
National University Hospital (NUH) is where patients may get to test these cutting edge research techniques, at no cost.
Says Dr Yong Wei Peng, Principal Investigator, Consultant, Cancer Institute at NUH, "We hope to bring in new drugs for patients [for whom] standard treatment has been exhausted. So hopefully for advanced stages of cancer, this group of patients will benefit through availability of new drugs."
The team assures patients that its work is in line with international standards.
Says Associate Professor Yeoh Khay Guan, Lead Principal Investigator, Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium, "We're part of a research programme called the ICBC - the International Cancer Biomarker Consortium - [which] links up cancer centres and research groups across the world. It's led by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle USA."
The project is the most extensive and well integrated research project in Singapore so far.
It is significant because it marks Singapore's entry into Phase Two of the Biomedical Sciences Initiative, which aims to bring research from bench to bedside, to benefit patients.
In the months ahead, another four research projects will be announced in the fields of infectious diseases, eye diseases, cardiovascular disorders, and neurosciences.
S$1.5 billion has been set aside for the second phase of the Biomedical Sciences Initiative, which aims to position Singapore as a leader in scientific and medical research.