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International team to study viruses

  Wednesday, 18 l 08 l 2010 Source:  The Straits Times   
By: Lester Kok

THE fight against viruses here took a step forward when a team of international scientists led by renowned Japanese virologist Naoki Yamamoto arrived in April.

The leaders of the team of 11 researchers – nine Japanese, a Chinese and a German – were introduced at a press conference yesterday. Professor Nobuhiro Yuki, 47, was the other scientist presented yesterday.

Professor Yamamoto, former director of the Aids Research Centre in Japan, joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine to develop new anti-viral drugs and safer vaccines and to further research on viruses.

The 65-year-old scientist has 40 years of expertise in dealing with chronic viruses such as the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer, and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which leads to acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Prof Yamamoto, who has authored more than 1,000 research papers and holds about 70 patents, has been given a research grant of $6 million over the next four years by NUS.

“For the study of infectious diseases, (Singapore) is one of the ideal places...a clean country that is surrounded by various places and countries from which Nipah and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) took place,” Prof Yamamoto said.

The Nipah virus, first recognised in 1999 during an outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia, causes inflammation of the brain or respiratory diseases.

Professor John Wong, dean of the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said Prof Yamamoto’s team will focus on finding treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases such as dengue, influenza and HIV.

“We still don’t have a drug for dengue, no vaccines for dengue... HIV, while there is a cocktail treatment, it is not curative. It just keeps the virus in check, but doesn’t cure,” he said.

He added that with the arrival of Prof Yamamoto come industry players which are interested in
his research, such as pharmaceutical companies Roche and Glaxo-SmithKline.

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