A*Star scientist is exploring new innovations in healthcare

Photo Caption: A*Star scientist Maple Ye believes the field of medtech is one of the most direct channels to improve patient diagnosis, treatment and management.

By Mary Wu

The global healthcare crisis has shone a spotlight on the lesser-known but growing discipline of medical technology (medtech), which encompasses technologies that diagnose, treat and/or help to improve human health care.

As countries battle the ongoing pandemic, research in this field has produced essential items such as Covid-19 diagnostic assays (investigative or analytical procedures) like test kits or devices, medical equipment like ventilators, and software medical devices that can interpret medical images.

A key contributor to the medtech sector is Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) scientist Maple Ye. She was involved in projects such as the development of wearable sensors for remote monitoring of Covid-19 patients in isolation wards, as well as the development of an artificial intelligence tool for chest X-ray diagnostics.

The 35-year-old wears multiple hats. As deputy director of medtech at A*Star (Biomedical Research Council as well as Horizontal Technology Programme Offices), she leads teams in the planning of medtech research efforts across the organisation.

Also principal manager of national platform Diagnostics Development (DxD) Hub, she guides local medtech start-ups in their product development journey towards product commercialisation, particularly in the field of diagnostics.

Dr Ye is also part of a team that set up the Biomedical Engineering Programme at A*Star, a grant to fund projects that are in early phases of the medtech translational research journey, where scientific discoveries in medtech are transformed into new products in medical care that can – directly or indirectly – improve the health of the population.

She notes: “In recent years, the medtech ecosystem here has become quite vibrant. Research and development for product innovation is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises. Also, larger medtech multinational companies tend to set up their business, regulatory and manufacturing functions in Singapore.”

The best of both worlds

Dr Ye feels medtech is one of the most direct channels to improve patient diagnosis, treatment and management.

In 2004, when she was embarking on her undergraduate studies, A*Star’s National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD) offered a clear path in research and innovation, says the scholarship recipient. The through-train programme covered both her undergraduate education and PhD studies.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 2007, she pursued a PhD in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, a programme that tapped the academia of both Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – two of the world’s top schools in their respective fields.

“While interning in the Harvard training hospitals, I gleaned deep insights into the clinical environment. Armed with that experience, I can innovate in the field of medical technologies with much greater relevance,” she says.

After graduation, she joined a local medical device start-up from 2016 to 2019 (under the A*Star T-Up scheme), which helped develop an implant to make the needling of dialysis patients more reliable and less painful.

She says: “I find it extremely rewarding when patients undergoing clinical trials benefit from a medical device that I have developed. With every step I take in this field, I get more inspired and passionate about my work.

“The A*Star scholarship definitely helped open doors to some of the best educational institutes and laboratories in the world. A*Star provides access to experienced mentors and additionally, there is also the flexibility to branch off into various innovation-related career paths.”

The A*Star Graduate Academy provides scholarships and fellowships for undergraduate, PhD and postdoctoral studies at top universities and laboratories locally and overseas, as well as awards and attachment opportunities for pre-university students.

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