The APEC Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE) is an annual award to recognize young scientists who have demonstrated a commitment to both excellence in scientific research, as evidenced by scholarly publication, and cooperation with scientists from other APEC member economies.

The ASPIRE Prize supports APEC’s mission to:
• strengthen international science and technology networks;
• enhance economic growth, trade and investment opportunities in harmony with sustainable development, through policies, innovative R&D and technologies, and knowledge sharing; and
• improve linkages and efficiency between research and innovation, involving and encouraging the potential of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Each year the APEC host economy is asked to provide a theme to guide nominations for the ASPIRE Prize to be awarded in their host year. For its host year of 2012 The Russian Federation selects HEALTH INNOVATION as its theme, building on its desire that APEC actively foster cooperation among economies in major innovation areas, such as human health, to support healthy lifestyles, productivity and economic growth.

Each member economy, through its representative on the APEC Industrial Science and Technology Working Group (ISTWG),  is invited to nominate one young scientist under the age of 40 to be considered for the 2012 ASPIRE Prize.  Nominees should be young scientists in the biosciences (i.e., biochemistry, bioengineering, biogenetics, molecular biology) who have demonstrated a commitment to both excellence in scientific research, as evidenced by scholarly publication, and cooperation with scientists from other APEC member economies.

John Wiley & Sons and Reed Elsevier, two of the world’s leading publishers of scholarly scientific knowledge, have generously committed to funding prize money in the amount of $25,000 USD.

Below are the nominees for this year's award:

   
Canada

Nominee:
Dr. Frederic Charron

Field of Research:
Molecular biology of neural development and pathologies 

Dr. Charron has published 38 papers, including many in high-impact journals, such as Cell, Nature and Science. He has also published in the highly prestigious journals Neuron and Developmental Cell. In recognition of his expertise, Dr. Charron is frequently asked to write reviews and book chapters for top-rated journals. His productivity is truly remarkable and impressive given that he is still early in his career.

 

Dr. Charron is highly committed to collaboration with scientists from APEC economies. He has hired students and post-doctoral fellows from APEC economies (Australia, China, New Zealand, USA). Twenty-three of his publications include co-authors from APEC economies, with additional publications submitted or in preparation. He maintains collaborations with individuals in APEC countries (Australia, Japan, USA). Dr. Charron is frequently invited to give seminars at universities and international conferences, including 20 presentations in APEC economies. As a service to the APEC community, he has also reviewed grant applications for the Grant Research Council in Hong Kong for the last 3 years.

 

Dr. Charron has made important scientific discoveries in the fields of developmental neurobiology and nervous system pathologies. Dr. Charron opened up an entirely new field of research when he showed that a morphogenic molecule of the developing embryo also acts as a cue to orchestrate the axons in growing towards their target. The paper reporting this finding has been cited over 260 times (Charron et al., Cell 2003) and helped establish a new field of study with important implications for our understanding of nervous system development and repair. His scientific discoveries will help in the understanding and eventual treatment of spinal cord injuries, neurological and neurodegenerative diseases, mental diseases, multiple sclerosis, and brain tumors. These discoveries will have significant and perhaps revolutionary humanitarian and economic impacts on the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world.

 
People’s Republic of China

Nominee:
Dr. Li Guohong

Field of Research:
Chromatin structures and Epigenetics 

Dr. Guohong Li’s research focuses on how eukaryotic genome is modified and organized into different structures to regulate the gene expression in response to various environmental signals, which ultimately determines the cell identity. Dr. Li is an emerging star in this field. His major contributions include having  developed a new powerful method to investigate the discrete steps necessary to turn on or turn off individual genes. This new methodology allowed him to probe the unfolding or compaction of higher-order chromatin structures during gene activation or silencing in order to examine which step of the process goes wrong in cancer and other diseases. These studies have bridged chromatin structure/dynamics and epigenetics to illuminate the molecular mechanisms of epigenetic phenomena and epigenetic regulation of gene expression. Dr. Li has also collaborated closely with scientists across APEC economies, including The People’s Republic of China, United States, and Singapore. He has published 27 research papers and reviews with over 650 citations in eminent peer-reviewed journals including Cell(2), Mol Cell(3), Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. (1), Genes Deve. (1), Biochemistry (2), Cell Research(2), DNA and Cell Biology(5). His h-index is 12.

 

Dr. Li currently is a Professor in National Laboratory of Biomacromolecules at the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He earned his B.S. in Virology at Wuhan University (1995) and his M.S. in Biophysics at Peking University Health Center (1998). He went on to earn his Ph.D. magna cum laude at Max-Planck Institute for Cell Biology/Heidelberg University (2003) and received postdoctoral training with Dr. Danny Reinberg in Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UMDNJ (2003-2006) and NYU (2006-2009).

 
Hong Kong, China

Nominee:
Dr. Chiu Rossa Wai Kwun

Field of Research:
Molecular biology 

Professor Rossa Chiu’s research has brought non-invasive prenatal diagnosis into routine clinical use. Prenatal diagnosis of fetal genetic diseases has relied on the use of invasive procedures, such as amniocentesis. The invasive procedures are associated with a 0.5% chance of fetal miscarriage. Professor Chiu has been developing non-invasive alternatives to prenatal diagnosis based on the analysis of small amounts of DNA released by the unborn child into the circulation of its mother. Professor Chiu succeeded in applying massively parallel sequencing to analyse fetal DNA fragments in blood samples of pregnant women for the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome (Chiu et al PNAS 2008). Professor Chiu was the first to perform large scale clinical studies to validate the non-invasive test for Down syndrome detection and showed that the test was 100% sensitive and 98% specific (Chiu et al BMJ 2011). As a result of Professor Chiu’s work, the non-invasive test for the prenatal diagnosis of fetal chromosomal aneuploidies has since been launched for routine clinical use in Hong Kong and the US. The test can reduce the current amniocentesis rate by 99%. Professor Chiu’s work has been published in Science, Nature Medicine, Nature Reviews Genetics, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, Lancet, BMJ, and Blood. She is an author in the key textbook in the field of Clinical Chemistry, Tietz Textbook of Clinical Chemistry. Professor Chiu collaborates with researchers from around the world including scientists from the US, People’s Republic of China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Professor Chiu has strived to improve prenatal diagnosis for all pregnant women. She has served as an invited speaker to promote scientific exchange to many parts of the world, including Australia, Canada, People’s Republic of China, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore and the US.

 
Indonesia

Nominee:
Dr. Puji Budi Setia Asih

Field of Research:
Antimalarial Drug, Malaria

Ms. Asih has been working at the Eijkman Institute as research assistant since 2001 and as a research fellow since 2010.  As a researcher at the Eijkman Institute, she has been involved in the projects that explore molecular mechanisms underlying Plasmodium resistance to antimalarial drugs, molecular mechanisms underlying mosquitoes resistance to insecticides, and molecular taxonomy of Anopheles mosquitoes. Upon the execution of the above projects, she has already produced several substantial scientific publications in the international, peer-reviewed journals.  

She is currently involved in a malaria transmission consortium research project and Spatial Repellent Insecticide for malaria control in Sumba (Spirit Sumba) as co-investigator and both funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and antimalarial drug study funded by World Health Organization (WHO). She also obtained a research grant from. the Indonesian Science Toray Foundation through Science and Technology Research Grant 2005 and several other awards.

 
Japan  

Nominee:
Dr. Akari Inada

Field of Research:
Cell Biology of Diabetes,  Molecular Biology

Akari Inada has been consistently working on cell biology of diabetes for world health innovation, beginning as a graduate student at Kyoto University, and continuing through postdoctoral fellow at Joslin Diabetes Center/ Harvard Medical School and tenure on the faculty at Kyushu University. Through a series of papers she showed that transcriptional activator competitively regulates insulin expression and pancreatic β-cell mass with repressor. She demonstrated that disruption of a balance between activator and repressor cause severe diabetes result from impaired insulin expression and β-cell-proliferation by generating transgenic mice with β-cell-directed expression of repressor.

These transgenic mice became valuable model for diabetic nephropathy since they exhibit progressive glomerulosclerosis due to stable hyperglycemia as introduced for best model and patented (US and Japan).

In addition to this work, Inada has worked on identifying a precursor cell in the pancreas that produces new β-cells. Experiments were designed to test hypothesis that pancreatic duct cells as a precursor with the rigorous approach of lineage tracing. After years of hard work, it was confirmed that the marked duct cells indeed turned to new β-cells during regeneration, showing the existence of resident stem cell in the pancreas for the first time. This challenging work overturned non-stem cell concept.

More recently, Inada worked on β-cell’s capability for new formation when β-cells face being severely destroyed. Examination with various methods including islet transplantation and insulin injections overturned the conventional concept that β-cells were vulnerable to stress and little regenerate. This important work gives a high impact on the regenerative medicine.

Currently, Inada proposes new β-cell induction from resident stem cell in vivo, and succeeded to reverse hyperglycemia through in vivo induction of β-cells in diabetic mice. This innovative work contributes to develop β-cell replenishment-therapy for diabetes patients. This result was submitted to a journal and has a patent application.

Finally, Inada has been collaborating with scientists from other APEC countries, USA, South Korea, and Singapore as a part of a global-COE International Program. Several joint publications are in preparation.

 
Singapore

Nominee:
Dr. Chew Sing Yian

Field of Research:
Regenerative medicine, neural tissue engineering, stem cell engineering, gene-silencing 

Dr. Sing Yian Chew, Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University, School of Chemical & Biomedical Engineering, has demonstrated excellence in scientific contributions to the field of biomedical engineering and future healthcare – areas that are in line with the Health Innovation theme of ASPIRE 2012.
 
Dr. Chew’s expertise lies in scaffold-mediated drug and gene delivery for tissue engineering, stem cell engineering and gene silencing. Her cutting-edge research has pushed the frontiers of gene-silencing and regenerative medicine and as a result, has received a total funding of ~S$2.5 million as principal investigator from various funding agencies in Singapore. These include the A*Star Biomedical Research Council (BMRC), National Medical Research Council (NMRC), Ministry of Education (MOE Tier1) and the MechanoBiology Institute (MBI). Such accomplishments are extremely impressive for a young individual who is fresh to academia.

Dr. Chew’s scientific contributions and ideas are well documented by her extensive numbers of publications, conference participations, invited talks and citations (citation count: 659, H-index: 11). She has also established extensive collaborative efforts with numerous basic scientists, engineers and clinicians from various renowned institutions in multiple countries from the APEC member economies, such as the United States, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong and Republic of Korea. As a young and aspiring scientist, Dr. Sing Yian Chew is highly eligible for consideration of the ASPIRE Award 2012.

 
Chinese Taipei  

Nominee:
Dr. Yu-yi Lin

Field of Research:
Aging and aging-associated diseases, Systems biology

Human life span has prolonged significantly during the past century because of improved sanitation, advanced medicine and food industry. However, aging increases susceptibility to numerous pathologies such as metabolic syndrome, cancer and neurodegenerative disease. Managing complications caused by these epidemic aging-associated diseases not only imposes great economic burden on our society, but also confronts us with formidable medical and public health challenges.

Dr. Yu-yi Lin has made crucial discoveries in the field of aging by using innovative proteomics and functional genomics tools to systematically identify novel mechanisms underlying aging and aging-associated diseases. Specifically, he co-developed high-density proteome microarray and genome-wide RNA interference screen technology to discover that disruption of cellular energy homeostasis is one of the main driving forces of aging, and further elucidated how protein lysine acetylation of critical metabolic enzymes integrates various genetic and environmental inputs to fine-tune the metabolic network activity and maintain energy homeostasis. For example, Dr. Lin found that the acetylation of a gluconeogenesis key enzyme, phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase, is involved in lifespan regulation in yeast. He also identified a novel intrinsic aging pathway in yeast that is independent of caloric restriction but controlled by acetylation of adenosine monophosphate-activated kinase (AMPK), the critical energy sensor in eukaryotic cells. He further confirmed crosstalk between acetylation and phosphorylation of the human AMPK that modulates its activity and thus lipid metabolism in human hepatocytes.

Aging is traditionally regarded as an unavoidable process of accumulating molecular, cellular and organ damage, leading to increased vulnerability to diseases and death. Dr. Lin’s data has revolutionized our understanding of aging by supporting the idea that the gradual loss of a crucial component promoting “healthy young status” might underlie an intrinsic aging process that is potentially reversible by molecular targeted agents such as protein lysine deacetylase inhibitors.

Thailand  

Nominee:
Dr. Sansanee Noisakran

Field of Research:
Virus and host interaction, infectious diseases

Dr. Sansanee Noisakran is a senior researcher at the National Science and Technology Development Agency, Thailand. Her scientific background is in the field of virology and immunology with a special interest in infectious diseases. She was trained in the United States to establish in vitro and in vivo models for the investigation of viral latency and reactivation of ocular herpes simplex virus infection that is a leading cause of blindness in humans. After she returned to Thailand and joined the Medical Biotechnology Research Unit, she has made contributions to dengue research that is increasingly important to tropical countries and other parts of the world. Her research aims at exploring mechanisms by which dengue virus (DENV) usurps host cellular machineries for amplification and spread throughout the body and sequential host responses occurring after DENV infection that may contribute to dengue pathogenesis. She established a mammalian cell system stably expressing a DENV protein and applied both biochemical and proteomic approaches to in vitro infection models to study viral protein processing, virus and host cell interaction and their involvement in dengue virus infection. Working in an endemic country for dengue, she extended her research to understand how dengue causes thrombocytopenia and roles of platelets in DENV infection using specimens systematically collected from dengue patients. In a collaboration with a research team in the United States, an in vivo model of rhesus monkeys experimentally infected with DENV, which for the first time shows a characteristic of dengue hemorrhage, was developed. This model has been employed to examine the ongoing mechanisms of viral production and dissemination as well as host cellular responses following acute DENV infection.

 
United States

Nominee:
Dr. Harley Brendan

Field of Research:
Biomaterials, Tissue Engineering

Dr. Brendan Harley’s innovative work with biomaterials has made crucial discoveries enabling a new generation of tissue engineering technologies to improve human health. Specifically, he has pioneered biomaterial strategies that address two critical problems at the forefront of tissue engineering: (1) regenerating spatially-ordered multi-tissue structures such as orthopedic interfaces; (2) dynamically regulating stem cell – niche cell interactions to control stem cell fate. He has developed a biomaterial implant to regenerate cartilage-bone injuries and co-founded a company to bring this product to the international health care market. Dr. Harley is currently validating a new generation of graded biomaterials that balance mechanical integrity and bioactivity to regenerate tendons and their insertion into bone. Recently he has demonstrated the application of photolithography and microfluidic toolsets to create optically-translucent, micropatterned materials to regulate the frequency and type of interaction between multiple cell types as a potentially transformative technology for creating synthetic stem cell niches. These systems are enabling new tissue engineering investigations and offer the potential to regulate critical processes such as stem cell self-renewal vs. differentiation; tissue regeneration and vascularization; and the biophysical regulation of cancer etiology and malignancy.

 

Dr. Harley is an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his S.B. in Engineering Science from Harvard University (2000) and his Sc.D. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT (2006). He has collaborated with APEC scientists and developed technologies aimed at clinical translation to APEC countries to improve human health. He has 24 publications with over 1100 citations in peer-reviewed journals including Biomaterials, Biophysical Journal, Immunity, and the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research. He has co-authored a text (Cambridge University Press) on the application of cellular solids theory to understand the properties and behaviors of biomaterials, tissues, and natural materials.

 
Viet Nam

Nominee:
Dr. Nguyen Van Trang

Field of Research:
Virology and Immunology 

Dr. Nguyen is a highly motivated young scientist with a solid science background. She received her BSc degree from the University of Western Australia (biochemistry and microbiology majors) and the PhD degree from the Ohio State University-USA (virology and immunology major). While many young people remain in these countries with highly advanced science to further their research careers, Dr. Nguyen chose to return to home to work and contribute to the field of science in her own country. Young scientists with such motivation should be encouraged in Viet Nam.  

Dr Nguyen has demonstrated the disciplines and productivity in her research works. During her PhD, she had numbers publications as the first and co-author in highly-recognised scientific journals such as Journal of Virology, Vaccine, Journal of Medical Virology etc. She continues this trend with more publications in Viet Nam from the work in her own laboratory or in collaboration with other institutions in both Vietnamese language jounals and international accredited journals during the last 5 years since her return. We recognise that this is a great effort from a young scientis to get the work carried out in Viet Nam by the Vietnamese team published in internationally accredited journals.

Dr.Nguyen is currently working in the field of pediatric infectious diseases at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology with similar functions as US-NIH and US-CDC. She has been the key person in many projects that she participated in includings the Seroprevalence study of H5N1 antibody in Vietnamese (funded by the Swedish International Developing Agency, 2006-2008 and US-NIH (2009-2011), a study of the impact of rotavirus vaccination to diarrheal etiology in Vietnamese children (funded by Nagasaki University, Japan from 2011-2015), a study on the different etiologies of diarrhea in Vietnamese people (JGRID from 2012-2014). She recently received a grant from Fogarty International, US-NIH (2012-2014) to work on immune responses to norovirus in children with diarrhea and association with human blood group antigen. She also received grant from our National Foundation for Science and Technology Development for the work on norovirus characterization and expression of VLP/P particles for diagnostic/vaccine purposes. Her lab was responsible for testing of the immune responses in children after vaccination with made-in-Viet Nam rotavirus vaccine, a project funded by our Ministry of Science and Technology. The vaccine has now been licenced for use to prevent diarrhea cause by this viruses. The possible effect of maternal antibodies in mothers’ breast milk on this vaccine has also been evaluated in her lab, project funded by our Ministry.

Thus, Dr Nguyen has shown her devotion in the field of infectious disease research for various diseases which cause large disease burden in developing countries like Viet Nam, including children diarrhea and avian influenza. Reduction in children morbility and mortality due to these infectious diseases is considered as one of the goal of this millenium. At her institute, collaborations with institutions of APEC and outsides have always been strengthened and developing. 

Dr. Nguyen has been the recipient of several scholarships and awards for her academic accomplishments. She is an outstanding woman scientist and a valuable asset for her Institute and country. As Viet Nam is integrating in to the world scientific field, it is essential to support and encourage outstanding scientists like Dr. Nguyen to continue her contributions.