The Kidney Dialysis Foundation (KDF), represented by Dr Gordon Ku, made a gift to the KDF-NUS Kidney Research Fund in early 2008 to support research into finding a long-term solution to kidney disease. The first project, headed by leading transplant surgeon Professor Sir Roy Calne, Emeritus Professor at Cambridge University and Visiting Professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, focuses on diabetes, the most common cause of kidney failure in Singapore.
The project aims to identify a way to get a patient’s cells to regenerate and produce insulin. Professor Lee Kok Onn, who oversees the research laboratory, explains: “Because of obesity and other stresses, insulin-producing cells die off. We are trying to get them to grow again. This would avoid the use of insulin injections and immune rejection from pancreatic transplants.”
She continues: “We are trying to do something that will have huge rewards if successful, and carries huge risks if not. Most research is ‘bread and butter’ research which doesn’t always end up with having a major impact on people’s lives. If our research works, and it is high risk, it will help a lot of diabetes patients.”
The research has not been without its setbacks. “Unfortunately, research is unpredictable. We have had a huge number of blind alleys. We have tried using three different viruses to try to trigger off the cells to regenerate but this only worked in mice. We have also used umbilical cord stems cells. Now we are trying to use bone marrow cells from patients. We always live in hope that we will find a solution. We hope we will hit on the right thing soon. I’m hopeful, otherwise, I would not be doing this,” says Prof Kok Onn.
“Sir Roy Calne has been a huge boost to the project. He has brought a level of expertise that would be difficult to get in Singapore. His aim is really to get something that works. And, KDF has been very generous and helpful in funding this work.”
Dr Gordon Ku, Chairman of KDF, says: “Through research, one dollar spent, may result in many dollars in return, and the benefit for all mankind. Successful research to find a cure for diabetes would have a significant impact on the world as the prevalence of all types of diabetes is on the rise in the world’s population.”