On the 21st February 2012, a group of Secondary 3 students were sent to listen to a series of presentations by Professors and students of NUS high. There was a presentation by Professor Soo, a Head and Neck Cancer Specialist, as well as 4 presentations by the students on their projects, namely: Effect of Stress on Subsequent Performance in Observers during High Fidelity Simulator-based Training, Impact of Transverse Modes Interaction in Fiber Amplifiers, Ultrasmall Peptide Therapeutics for Inhibiting Amyloid Formation and Generalized Quantum Tic-Tac-Toe.
Firstly, we listened to a Keynote address by Professor Soo, who covered the importance of basic scientific discoveries, translational experiments and clinical research with regards to his area of expertise, Head and Neck Cancer. He revealed that Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy, when used together after surgery on a cancer patient, yields better results than Radiotherapy alone when it comes to chances of survival. How is this proven? Through Clinical trials! These trials are necessary to test for a better cure of a disease, and randomized clinical trials have the basis of use of hypothesis, risk stratification, allocation to treatment arms by computer randomization and sufficient patient numbers to measure small but statistically different differences.
What does this show? This structure is a basic structure of a randomized clinical trial, and similar to any other science project, would ultimately lead to a solution for the problem. The solution would be the cure for the disease, which could apply to any other disease other than Head and Neck Cancer. Prof. Soo shared with us the important factors that affect the survival in Head and Neck Cancer patients—stage of disease and the extra-capsular spread in nodal metastases. ( how fast the cancer virus enters the capsule of the human lymphnods.)
In this circumstances, the hypotheses were that patients who are young (< 45 years), is a female and have no known risk factors were "bad players" in head and neck cancer, meaning that it is harder for them to be cured as they show different responses in clinical performance as compared to other patients. This was probably due to the stem cell population being disproportionally high or certain biological determinants within the tumor itself.
Prof. Soo also explains that the need for basic research is mainly to understand biological complexities. An example which he used was Photodynamic Therapy as a cure for cancer. Photodynamic therapy is the insertion of a drug in the tumor, and when the concentration of this drug in the tumor is significantly higher, light is shone onto the lesion, and since the drug has a substance that reacts similarly to chlorophyll found in plants, it would kill the cancer cells and the cells become hypoxic. There was also research conducted to the use of Avastin, which is a compound that blocks vascular endothelial growth (prevents vascular regrowth) and the use of this along side photodynamic therapy proves to be more successful in getting rid of the cancer cells. During the course of research there would be a need to vary the dosages and sequence of treatments to find the most suitable one, and this process is biological research itself.
Hence, in conclusion, Prof. Soo said that biomedical research in Singapore with regards to cancer is extremely important as it is relevant to the issue of constantly increasing numbers of diagnosed patients as well as annual deaths with cancer in Singapore alone. This research would also prove to be intellectually challenging as the researcher has to improve the therapeutic index ( a dose which would kill the cancer and not the patient), however it could also result in personalized medicine which would benefit the society. Through this presentation I learnt the importance of basic research and clinical research, as well as what it can do to benefit humans in general. I also had a glimpse of what Professor Soo's profession was, and what we can do to improve current medical technology.
Grace Tan Soo Woon (05)