Special Programme in Science (SPS)

SPSians Winning Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award 2016/2017

The 2016/2017's edition of the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Prize highlights 2 SPSians, Ta Le Duc Huy (from SPS 2013) and Leong Jun Hao (from SPS 2014), winning the individual category of the prestigious award which is only awarded to a maximum of 15 students each year across the university.

Ta Le Duc Huy

"NUS Special Programme in Science (SPS) provides me plenty of valuable opportunities to immerse in research projects to gain insights into a specific area of science beyond the school curriculum. What set SPS apart from normal school curriculum is that SPS has many experienced and inspiring lecturers and mentors, engaging laboratory and sharing sessions and an independent research project. Not only did I enjoy the classes and the challenges that it posed, it also gave me an insight into designing my own research experiment. This gave me first-hand exposure to the process of active scientific research which fuelled my passion for science. I believe this added a tremendous value to the learning experience. Moreover, learning how to collaborate with others during group projects and in the fast-paced laboratory setting was essential. Most importantly, SPS lecturers and mentors provided individualized guidance to every student and ensured that everyone got the most out of their time with SPS. Ultimately, I feel that the skills I acquired throughout the programme in critical thinking, writing, organization, and presentation can be applied to every research setting.

My research project experience was a rocky but an enlightening one. Throughout the SP3172 (Integrated Science Project) module, I had the opportunity to propose a scientific idea on the topic that I would like to work on. With the help of SPS lecturers, I was accepted to work on my proposal at the Department of Paediatrics, NUS - the pilot study which explores the association between nasal microbiota and respiratory diseases such as rhinitis, asthma and wheeze in infants. The originality of this research is what makes it different from any other research I can conduct in a lab during my undergraduate years. This project experience helped me realize many pitfalls and frustrations that come with research, but more importantly, it taught me valuable lessons in how rewarding it could be. After this module, I became so interested in allergy and immunology research in children, I decided to continue to work on this for my honours year. This has earned me an Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Prize (OURP) for AY2016/17. I would definitely recommend SPS to anybody who has strong interest in science research."

Leong Jun Hao

"Natural killer (NK) cell is an immune cell subtype with special anti-viral and anti-cancer activity. Because of these unique properties, it has been proposed that NK cells could be used as a treatment for cancer. The project involved the engineering of NK cells to better target and kill cancer cells. This was achieved through the incorporation of key signaling domains into the structure of the main NK cell activating receptor, NKG2D. We developed a novel chimeric receptor, called NKG2D-CD16-41BB, and showed that NK cells bearing this receptor have markedly improved tumor cell killing. Our results demonstrate that the biological functions of activated NK cells can be further enhanced to maximize their anti-tumor activity. Thus, the project has laid out the foundation for a new form of NK cell-based immunotherapy.

I am deeply honored to be a recipient of the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Prize. This prize will be a great motivation as I pursue my future research goals. I would like to express my appreciations and thanks towards my supervisors Professor Dario Campana and Dr. Robert Lieu, as well as all members of my laboratory for their valuable advice and guidance throughout my entire journey. They have played a huge role for my achievements and in shaping my perspective and thinking. I appreciate the conducive environment of the laboratory and the friendliness of all lab members. These greatly assisted and enhanced my learning throughout my stay in the laboratory. Lastly, I would like to thank my peers and family members for their support.

Being someone with no prior knowledge or experience in research, I am also grateful for the various opportunities provided by the University that has greatly increased my exposure towards scientific research. Special Program in Science (SPS) has imparted me with basic skills and knowledge necessary for budding researchers like myself. Through SPS, I had a glimpse of what research is like and it further confirmed my interest. My experience in research is further strengthened when doing my UROP. These programs have prepared and equipped me with necessary skills to embark on my research career."

Figure 1: Photograph of Leong Jun Hao