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"Innovative cancer research is required for medical breakthroughs"

Dr Timothy Shuen, a Research Fellow at the NCCS, believes cancer research is much more than bench work. Researchers make a huge impact in the fight against cancer. Dr Shuen explains what he really does at work and his passion for it.

Q: Dr Shuen, can you share with us your daily routine at work?

Dr Timothy Shuen (TS): The first thing that I usually do at work is to clear my administrative work in the morning. My afternoons will be occupied by lab experiments as well as computation work to analyse the data. I also supervise the research officers and interns in their lab work. Occasionally, I attend meetings with other research institutions on collaborative studies. On most days, I knock off at 7 to 8pm, have dinner with my wife, and then continue my computation work at home. My day ends at 3 to 4am.

Q: What are some other misconceptions that people have on cancer researchers?

TS: I think that many people do not understand that research is arduous work that requires a lot of time and effort. We go through many trial and errors in order to find the best way to treat cancer, and we experience a lot of failures before we succeed. Another misconception is that we know everything about cancer research. The truth is, cancer researchers are actually quite specialised in the work they do. For me, my interest and specialisation is in immunotherapy and drug repurposing.

Q: Why did you choose immunotherapy and drug repurposing?

TS: It is a great opportunity for me to learn from one of the pioneers in immunotherapy research, Associate Professor Toh Han Chong. What is interesting about immunotherapy is that we harness the body’s immune system to fight cancer and I believe it has lesser side effects. There is also a need for cheaper cancer drugs. Through drug repurposing, I hope that we can find known and cheaper drugs (diabetes drug, for instance) to treat cancer.

Q: You are from Hong Kong. Why did you choose to do cancer research in Singapore?

TS: In Hong Kong, there is little translational research, thus findings in a research are often not converted into clinical practice. In Singapore, especially in NCCS, clinicians and scientists work in close collaboration and deeply engaged in translational research. In this way, we know that our research can bring meaningful outcomes to cancer patients. The cancer patients, whom I pass by on my way to the lab daily, have become my strongest motivation in my research work.

Q: What do you think are your biggest achievements in research?

TS: Our lab has won several national grants, and recently we have been awarded by the Ministry of Health’s National Medical Research Council (MOH NMRC), which the study has been recognised for its importance and likelihood of success. Innovative cancer research is required for medical breakthroughs and to develop better treatments for our patients. We are grateful for the philanthropy support that encourages us in our work and drives research forward.