Monday, December 18, 2006

The Stem Cell Race: Singapore's $370 Million Biopolis

In Singapore, embryonic stem cell research is spelled Biopolis. It is a simple way of saying, We focus intensely on people and laboratories, fast action and strong collaboration.

On Monday, reporter Terri Somers of the San Diego Union-Tribune examined Singapore's embryonic stem cell effort in the second of her three-part series, "The Stem Cell Race."

Here is how Somers described the life of one scientist at Biopolis:
"When she needs a new supply of embryonic stem cells, she phones in an order and walks across the campus of the science center her government has built to pick them up. Although her work is highly regulated, authorities have made obtaining human embryonic stem cells only slightly more difficult than snagging a box of pens from a supply cabinet."
Life seems good in the $370-million, 2.4 million-square-foot biotech research hub. Somers wrote:
"On what used to be grassland, a seven-building cluster of modern, glass-walled structures sprouted in 18 months. Enclosed glass walkways shelter workers from the unrelenting heat and downpours of the tropics, giving the complex the look of giant Habitrail for humans.

"Two more buildings opened in November, creating more space for the nine research institutes and consortiums that fill Biopolis, along with several research and development outposts of biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

"There's a storage facility for tens of thousands of mice for use in experiments, a tissue bank and a bioprocessing facility that is making the culture medium in which stem cells will be grown. Eventually it will produce millions of stem cells.

"The government accommodates the workers' long hours with a child-care center, supermarket, hair salon, dry cleaners, bars and even a 7-Eleven convenience store.

"On a typical workday, members of this multinational scientific community can be seen outside enjoying the cooling mist of a fountain, the shade of lush foliage or the convenience of a cafe, as they share ideas over lunch or lattes. They seem oblivious to the Miami-in-August temperatures and humidity."
The Singapore effort has paid off by attracting a host of first-rate scientists as well. Somers reviews the cast that now stars in the Biopolis "theater," ranging from UC San Diego's former medical school dean, Edward Holmes, and his wife, Judith Swain, a cellular cardiologist, to Neal Copeland and Nancy Jenkins, top ESC researchers from the NIH.

Somers' article also indirectly emphasized how tiny and interconnected the ESC research world is. For example, Singapore's efforts are hooked into the California stem cell agency. Somers reported,
"The advisory board to Singapore's Biomedical Research Council reads like a who's who of medical research, including David Baltimore of Caltech and La Jolla-based scientists John Reed of the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, Sydney Brenner of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Richard Lerner of The Scripps Research Institute."
Both Reed and Baltimore also serve as directors of CIRM.

Somers' second piece on Tuesday also reinforced the "small world" portrait of ESC research. She profiled Philip Yeo, chairman of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*Star, the long title of the man who is the mastermind of Biopolis. Somers wrote:
"Yeo called his friend Stuart Weissman, a pioneer in embryonic stem cell research at Stanford, seeking advice on what type of work could be done at Biopolis that would complement efforts in the United States.

"Yeo (then) set about trying to lure – he would say borrow – top researchers to Singapore. Governments jilted by researchers who have found his offers too good to refuse refer to him as a 'serial kidnapper.'"


On Tuesday, Somers will examine California's $3 billion stem cell research effort. Sphere: Related Content

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