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A Journey into SMART’s Breakthroughs in 2023

In today's interconnected world, societies grapple with mounting pressures and a spectrum of urgent concerns. These range from the ethical considerations arising from the potential pervasive influence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the challenges surrounding developing treatments for serious and terminal diseases, as well as issues encompassing Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and the imperative for enhancing food security. 

As a leader in research and technology, SMART plays a significant role in addressing these critical issues in diverse sectors. Below are some of SMART’s interesting research and accomplishments in the year 2023: 

Launch of new research group Mens, Manus and Machina (M3S)

This year, SMART launched a new IRG, Mens, Manus and Machina (M3S), which is dedicated to advancing AI, automation, and the future of work. M3S aims to push the boundaries in AI, automation, and robotics, significantly contributing to scientific, societal, and commercial advancements in Singapore and beyond.

With everyone looking to get in on AI, what sets SMART M3S apart from similar research programmes is its emphasis on developing the social frameworks, infrastructure, and institutions necessary to place humans at the forefront of this AI-driven transformation and focus on enhancing the human-machine relationship. 

Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-Medicine (CAMP): Revolutionising Stem Cell Extraction and T-cell Therapy

At SMART CAMP, researchers are pushing the boundaries of scientific innovation in the field of cell therapy. Two groundbreaking technologies have been developed with the potential to revolutionise T-cell therapy and stem cell extraction, opening up new possibilities for advanced medical treatments.

Researchers at SMART have made significant advancements in T-cell cultures by developing a faster and safer T-cell therapy through a novel contamination-detection method. This approach detects contaminants within 24 hours using nanopore sequencing and machine learning. It improves efficiency and safety in biopharmaceutical manufacturing and ensures the safety and efficacy of T-cell therapies. Ongoing efforts are focused on integrating sterility testing and enhancing production efficiency by incorporating virus detection capabilities.

CAMP researchers have also revolutionised the field of cell therapy with their novel microfluidic method that optimises stem cell extraction for advanced cell therapies. The method extracts mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) directly from bone marrow aspirate (BMA) using a Deterministic Lateral Displacement (DLD) microfluidic platform. The method is ten times faster than traditional approaches, and yields double the amount of stem cells. Ongoing research in this area focuses on enhancing MSC quality and sorting speed for maximum efficiency in delivering life-changing therapies. 

Combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR)

In the realm of AMR, SMART's AMR Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRG) has soared to new heights in 2023. Their groundbreaking work has unravelled a novel bacterial communication system, presenting solutions to the pressing challenges of antimicrobial resistance, which the UN estimates could cause up to 10 million deaths per year globally by 2050, matching the annual global death toll of cancer. 

SMART researchers have discovered a new stress signalling system -  the RlmN enzyme as a pivotal stress sensor in E. faecalis, a common bacterium found in the human gut. This revelation establishes a direct link between stress sensors and translation machinery, paving the way for new avenues in drug development.

The AMR IRG's groundbreaking dual therapy against vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis (VRE) infections marks a significant milestone. By combining the anticancer agent mitoxantrone (MTX) with the antibiotic vancomycin, researchers inhibit VRE growth effectively and also enhance the host immune system. This dual-targeted therapy presents a potent solution to the challenges posed by antimicrobial resistance.

Addressing the urgency of the public health threat posed by Mycobacterium abscessus (M. abscessus), a non-tuberculous mycobacterium (NTM) responsible for chronic lung-related infections, the AMR IRG has unveiled a promising therapy. The combination of rifaximin and clarithromycin has proven effective against M. abscessus, providing hope for improved treatment outcomes and with plans already in motion for potential human clinical trials.

Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP)

In 2023, amidst global challenges of climate change and a growing population, researchers from the Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) IRG at SMART emerged as a key player in revolutionising agriculture through groundbreaking research and technology.

DiSTAP introduced a game-changing microneedle-based drug delivery technique, originally for medical use, adapted to deliver agrochemicals to plants efficiently. This innovation enhances crop quality and disease management and aligns with sustainable farming practices.

The team also achieved a breakthrough in nanosensors to detect plant hormones, particularly gibberellins (GAs), a class of hormones in plants that are important for growth. This advancement allows early intervention in agriculture, minimising disruption to plant health and offering farmers a powerful tool for crop management.

SMART remains steadfast in its commitment to tackling critical problems of society, both in Singapore and globally. As a world-class research centre, SMART collaborates locally and internationally to create positive change. From healthcare breakthroughs to sustainable urban planning, SMART's research portfolio reflects an unwavering commitment to a safer and more resilient future. Join SMART on this transformative journey towards a connected world, where research transcends borders to make a meaningful difference.


Ismail Soomro
Ismail Soomro

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