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SIT’s Singapore Biodesign Faculty Fellows Turn Research into Medical Solutions


Under the Singapore Biodesign Faculty Fellowship, faculty members are equipped with biodesign knowledge in healthcare innovation to improve patients' lives.


Assistant Professor Alex Qiang Chen (right) received his certificate of completion from Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, Chairman of A*STAR, at the Singapore Biodesign Fellowship Graduation Ceremony held on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Asst Prof Alex Qiang Chen)

Where technology and medicine meet to improve the lives of patients, Assistant Professor Alex Qiang Chen is there.

Hailing from the Singapore Institute of Technology's InfoComm Technology (ICT) Cluster, Asst Prof Chen has been applying his expertise to address healthcare challenges and improve the accessibility and affordability of healthcare services. One of his projects aims to provide a low-cost method to analyse foot plantar pressure to reduce the manufacturing cost and turnaround time for custom foot insoles for diabetic foot amputees.

The Singapore Biodesign Faculty Fellowship which he completed in 2023 helped Asst Prof Chen with the development of such projects by enhancing his knowledge of the larger product research-to-market processes.

Launched in 2010, the Singapore Biodesign Faculty Fellowship aims to equip professionals with an interest in healthcare with the knowledge to bring research out of the lab and into the market as practical medical products for use in real-world settings. 


Asst Prof Chen (back row, second from right) with his teammates on the final day of the Singapore Biodesign Faculty Fellowship training and project pitching at Fogarty Innovation, Mountain View, CA, United States. (Photo: Asst Prof Alex Qiang Chen)

“The fellowship has given me an overview of the various stages of product development. It helps me to see the bigger picture of how everything comes together and allows me to understand the needs and gaps at each stage. For example, it has made me more aware of regulatory requirements to consider from the onset,” Asst Prof Chen explained.

Turning Projects into Products for Patients

Initiated by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), the Economic Development Board and Stanford University, the fellowship features a five-day entry boot camp, workshops conducted by subject matter experts, and overseas immersion trips. Participants are also required to work in groups on a health technology project.

Associate Professor Benjamin Soon, Programme Leader of SIT’s Doctor and Master of Clinical Research in Health Sciences programmes and fellow participant of the programme, shared that the experience of working with teammates with diverse skill sets on the health technology project has helped to spur his learning. Across more than six months, A/Prof Soon and his team regularly gathered after hours to work on a solution that could help patients with whiplash injuries rehabilitate at home.


A/Prof Benjamin Soon visited Stanford Biodesign at Stanford University as part of the Singapore Biodesign Fellowship training. (Photo: Benjamin Soon)

A/Prof Soon, who completed the programme in 2022, had already been developing a camera system that could detect user neck movements at SIT, but the fellowship allowed him to improve the solution with others from the healthcare industry.

“During the programme, I got to work with other healthcare professionals as groupmates – one nurse and one medical doctor. We met every week, and the feedback from their unique perspectives helped refine the project. Together, the team evaluated the feasibility and usefulness of the project for patients, while evaluating the market potential of such a system to help patients with whiplash disorder,” said A/Prof Soon.

Similar to Asst Prof Chen, A/Prof Soon shared that the fellowship also gave him a more holistic view of the product development process. “Many times, we as researchers focus on the lab work, and it ends there. Most of us don’t consider the long process of going from lab to patient. The programme has helped me understand whether a product we develop is pure imagination or whether patients will actually use it. There is a whole process of verifying ideas and looking at the next steps of bringing a product to market, whether it is the legal, financial or marketing processes,” A/Prof Soon shared.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Inspired by what they have learned from the fellowship, A/Prof Soon and Asst Prof Chen are working together with A/Prof Desmond Chong, SIT’s first faculty member to complete the fellowship in 2021, to bring their knowledge back to SIT for the next generation of medical practitioners.


A/Prof Benjamin Soon at the memorial court of Stanford University during a campus tour, which he visited as part of the Singapore Biodesign Fellowship training. (Photo: Benjamin Soon)

“We are coming up with an elective module for allied health students to teach them how we can be innovative with new technology to help patients. It will feature some of the same exercises we went through during the fellowship,” said A/Prof Soon.

“Biodesign is multidisciplinary, so we have designed the module to be made available to students across academic clusters,” added Asst Prof Chen.

Trained in computer science, Asst Prof Chen also recognises the value of biodesign for students in the ICT field. He hopes that more ICT students will gain awareness and interest in healthcare technology and apply biodesign concepts in their projects.

“I am looking to include biodesign concepts in our existing software development design module. Most ICT students don’t immediately consider healthcare technology as a viable career path as they are not usually exposed to the industry. But if we expose them to this area now, we may see more of them going into the healthcare technology industry in the near future. This will be key to build Singapore’s talent pipeline for the industry.” he said.

On his aspirations for the next generation, A/Prof Soon said, “I hope that we can give students a better idea of how new health technology innovations can be developed so that, one day, they can contribute to making patients’ lives better too.”

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