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Biodiversity underpins all life and is intertwined in our daily lives in more ways than that are apparent. In Western modern medicine, for example, 25 per cent of all drugs are derived from rainforest plants, and 70% of cancer drugs are natural or synthetic products inspired by nature. The application of the knowledge of plants to treat disease and promote health has existed for thousands of years and the potential in tapping into this vast wealth of information to advance health and wellness through biodiversity medicine is tremendous.
The newly launched SingHealth Duke-NUS Institute of Biodiversity Medicine (BD-MED) aims to drive and accelerate biodiversity research that can promote all aspects of human health and wellness. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Kiat officiated its launch at the opening ceremony of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Scientific Congress on 18 September 2021.
Enabling groundbreaking research for new treatments
Philanthropic investments fuel the advancement of novel research initiatives and Verdant Foundation’s visionary commitment will help to accelerate biodiversity research.
According to Professor Teh Bin Tean, the director of the Institute, developments in science and technology in areas such as genomics and artificial intelligence, generate boundless opportunities to explore, exploit and advance the knowledge of biodiversity medicine for greater impact on human health and wellness.
BD-MED will focus on three key research programmes. The gift from the Verdant Foundation will support the Institute’s signature Herbal Biodiversity and Medicine Programme which will harness cutting-edge technologies to extract and study plant components that may have promising nutraceutical benefits to fight common diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. This includes identifying molecular pathways and novel phytochemicals for drug discovery and creating alternative therapeutic and nutritional options.
“We have been working with Prof Teh and his team on various projects such as genetic diagnostics for the past 10 years. I hope this gift will help the new Institute leverage the local biodiversity to advance research into nutrition, medicine and human health,” said Mr Vincent Cheng, Chairman of Verdant Foundation.
In acknowledgment of Verdant Foundation’s generous contribution, the programme has been named the Cheng Kin Ku Herbal Biodiversity and Medicine Programme, in memory of Mr Vincent Cheng’s father.
Advancing Biodiversity Research
In addition to the Cheng Kin Ku Herbal Biodiversity and Medicine Programme, BDMED’s Food Biodiversity and Nutrition Programme aims to study the use of food as medicine to manage diseases alongside conventional treatments, and the Urban Biodiversity and Wellness Programme will focus on studying how natural flora and their biodiversity can enhance our living environment and promote wellness including mental health.
To support its work, BD-MED will develop 12,000m2 of garden space, spread across four of SingHealth’s hospitals to house urban gardens and aquaponic systems that will double-up as spaces that can bring respite for patients and staff.
“Tapping on the wealth of biodiversity in Southeast Asia and Singapore, my team and I hope to delve deep into studying the genetic make-up, nutritional and medical benefits of local and regional plants to better understand, prevent and fight diseases, and even contribute to environmental and food sustainability,” said Prof Teh.
“Research is a long-term investment and many biomedical research projects worldwide have been slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are especially thankful to the Verdant Foundation whose generous contribution and support have given us a good start to carry out our scientific studies, set up the infrastructure and establish local and international collaborations.”