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Science warrior soldiers on in the fight against Covid-19

Dr Matthew Tay decided to pursue scientific research as he believed the field would enable him to do work that could save or improve the quality of many lives

By Mary Wu

It may have seemed as though everything ground to a halt during Singapore’s circuit breaker last year.

But for f ront-liners such as medical workers and researchers, things were hectic. Among these front-liners was Dr Matthew Tay, an Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) research fellow at the Singapore Immunology Network, who specialises in antibody discovery in infectious disease.

The 33-year-old recalls: “We worked on a seven-day lab and seven-day home schedule. This meant that all experiments had to be crammed into half the available time, and all data analysis into the other half. Some weeks ended up being strings of 16-hour work days.”

To Dr Tay, it was not just a race to meet tight deadlines, but also a war against a global pandemic.

“We knew that the sooner we completed our scientific studies on the virus, the more useful it would be to public health agencies and front-line medical workers,” he adds.

Since February last year, Dr Tay has been part of the A*Star Covid19 research task force, assisting teams that evaluated Covid-19 diagnostic kits for clinical deployment nationwide.

Together with a group of scientists, he also co-authored an article that consolidated early research on Covid-19. It was published in April last year in the Nature Reviews Immunology journal and the timeliness of the article led to its massive popularity.

Written in the stars

Growing up, Dr Tay always felt a strong calling to help others, especially the less fortunate. He decided to pursue scientific research as he believed the field would enable him to do work that could save or improve the quality of many lives.

“(The field of) infectious disease was a natural fit for me, since infectious diseases have a disproportionately large impact on the poor. Yet, they remain relatively under-researched,” he says.

He applied for and was awarded the A*Star National Science Scholarship (BS-PhD) to pursue his undergraduate studies at Brown University (2009 to 2012) and subsequently, his PhD at Duke University in the United States (2013 to 2018).

Dr Tay was keen on A*Star as he feels the agency aligns with his goal of translating research results into real-world outcomes, to make an impact on people’s lives. The scholarship also allowed him to get into a PhD lab that otherwise would not have had the funding to support him.

“At the PhD lab, I was able to work with and learn from the best in the vaccine field, which gave me skills and knowledge that are directly relevant to our fight against Covid-19,” he says. 

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