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Five research breakthroughs over the years

Research has helped us to discover new ways of treating diseases and changed the way we deliver care. Over the years, we have made numerous new discoveries and developed innovative healthcare solutions to transform patient care for the future. Let’s take a look at five of our very own home-grown research breakthroughs!

1. The Sheares Procedure

What it is: This procedure involves the construction of the vagina for females who do not have one due to birth defects. Former president of Singapore and eminent gynaecologist Dr Benjamin Sheares pioneered this operation at the Sepoy Lines General Hospital (later renamed Singapore General Hospital). This procedure was hence known internationally as the “Sheares Procedure”.

How it impacted our lives: Several women with undeveloped vaginas sought help from Dr Sheares during the early post-war period. After carrying out the operation as it was practised then, he felt strongly that there was a better way of doing it. This then spurred him on to develop his own procedure, capturing the attention of the medical community beyond our shores. Gynaecologists have described the Sheares procedure to be safer, more efficient and produces better results than the traditional method.

Achievements/milestones: After Dr Sheares published the paper “Congenital Atresia of the Vagina: A New Technique for Tunnelling the Space between bladder and Rectum and Construction of the New Vagina”, this procedure gained worldwide recognition in 1960. Many foreign women travelled to Singapore specially to seek this treatment, and Dr Sheares even had a patient referred to him by a specialist from Czechoslovakia.



What it is: Singapore Eye Lesion Analyser Plus, also known as SELENA+, is an artificial intelligence (AI) software, powered by deep learning algorithms, trained to analyse retinal photographs for signs of diabetic eye diseases, in a fraction of the time that it currently takes humans. The software was jointly developed by research teams from the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) and the National University of Singapore's (NUS) School of Computing and results were published in December 2017.

How it impacted our lives: In the Singapore Integrated Diabetic Retinopathy Programme (SIDRP), non-physician human graders were tasked to perform assessment and this model is resource intensive. With SELENA+, patients who need not be referred for specialist care can now receive their report within minutes and only patients with abnormalities will be escalated to a human grader for confirmation. This reduces the workload for professional graders by 50%, thus reducing the need for trained manpower to tackle diabetes, the world’s fastest-growing chronic disease.

Achievements/milestones: SELENA+ is integrated into SIDRP and is used to process diabetic eye images at all polyclinics under a trial implementation plan. By FY2023, it will be the first AI product in the world to be used by a national healthcare system for screening.

3. Tooth in The Eye surgery

Credit: The Straits Times

What it is: A SNEC and National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS) team performed an artificial corneal procedure known as osteo‐odonto keratoprosthesis (OOKP) on a young Thai patient in 2004. The procedure involved using the boy’s own canine tooth to implant a plastic cornea into one eye, restoring his vision.

How it impacted our lives: Luck Pewnual, a teenage boy from Thailand, suffered a rare allergic reaction where he completely lost his sight in both eyes. This surgery helped him to see again, and paved the way for restoring sight in severe cases of blindness due to injuries such as burns or acid attacks that previously could not be treated.

Achievements/milestones: The team, led by Adjunct Professor Donald Tan, was the first medical team in Southeast Asia to perform this procedure. The operation won the team 3 international awards. SNEC also won recognition from the international ophthalmological community, with surgeons coming from abroad to learn how to perform the procedure at the Centre. At the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Annual Meeting in 2005, the SNEC’s OOKP surgical team won the First Place Film Award under the new techniques category – a first for Singapore surgeons.

4. CarbonCool


What it is: The CarbonCool suit, consisting of a wearable suit made of neoprene and thermoplastic polyurethane, can help protect a patient's brain and other vital organs following a cardiac arrest. The suit was developed by doctors from SGH and an industry partner, Global Healthcare SG.

How it impacted our lives: After a patient suffers a cardiac arrest, the faster the body can be cooled, the more likely the patient will regain good brain function. A study at SGH found that the CarbonCool suit can cool a patient’s body to target temperature more than three times faster than traditional management. CarbonCool is an effective, cheaper and less bulky method compared to traditional cooling methods such as cold infusions, ice packs or using other commercial cooling machines.

Achievements/milestones: Since implementing the suit in 2015, the proportion of patients who regained good brain function after cardiac arrest has risen to 60% from 20 - 30% previously. The suit is now being used for other applications such as heat stroke, protection from heat stress and sports injuries.



What it is: KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) collaborated with researchers from the NUS Department of Electrical Computer Engineering to develop an AI-powered ultrasound guided automated spinal landmark identification system which improves the accuracy and success rate of first attempt needle insertion during spinal anaesthesia.

How it impacted our lives: uSINETM uses ultrasound imaging and AI to automatically identify the spinal level of insertion and the midline, so that the spinal needle insertion during spinal anaesthesia can be more precise and require fewer attempts. This reduces the anxiety, discomfort and pain associated with multiple needle insertions, and also reduces the complications associated with it.

Achievements/milestones: This is the world’s first novel AI-powered ultrasound guided automated spinal landmark identification system. It has been licensed to NUS spin-off company, HiCura Medical Pte Ltd, for commercialisation.