Inspiring Scientists Making a Difference: Lisa Ng
Understanding Infectious Diseases and Immunology
“It's not just about publishing in high-impact journals, but also ensuring that the outcome has a very practical use to change lives.”
Lisa Ng, PhD
Executive Director of A*STAR Infectious Diseases Labs (ID Labs) and Biomedical Research Council (BMRC)
Since childhood, Lisa has always been curious about her surroundings. She enjoyed watching programs about home-based science experiments and was interested in biology during her school days, which led her to pursue a degree in biochemistry. She was interested in how disease affects people, and how she can make a difference. Later, she found herself in the molecular virology laboratory, which further solidified her interest in the field of infectious diseases. Lisa has been contributing to scientific research for over 25 years.
Lisa’s dream as a scientist is to make a difference with her research. She hopes to contribute to the field of infectious diseases by developing tools for better clinical management and make discoveries which would lead to therapy development.
Science can change the understanding of a particular concept, not just locally but globally. This was proven for Lisa during a major turning point—the SARS epidemic in Singapore in 2003, when Lisa realized that scientists needed to look beyond specific research areas and the value of focusing on doing work that holds clinical significance and can bring about a positive impact on the community. During that period, she worked closely with clinical partners and public health experts, giving her the opportunity to understand the applications of her research and how it could benefit the public.
“It reshaped my thinking, how I conduct my research and the type of research questions I should be looking at.”
Ongoing goals of Lisa’s research include understanding new concepts in host immunity and protective mechanisms. It is also important to her to embrace new concepts and tools to further her understanding of mechanisms of infectious diseases and host immunity. Lisa is proud of the fact that her research team is adaptable to changes and resilient in the face of challenges.
Lisa believes that things are moving very quickly in terms of technological developments. The tools and technologies provide not only speed, but also depth and precision. For example, single cell sequencing allows deeper understanding of host response at the cellular level. Use of several immunological tools at Lisa’s laboratory is not uncommon. They use a variety of molecular, genetics, and immunological research instruments which help with their research in areas such as, but not limited to, patient cohorts, animal models, and in vitro infection.
According to Lisa, in immunology research, it is important to get the clinical data to understand cellular signature at the systemic level in clinical specimen, however it’s difficult to dive deep into systemic level mechanisms with this data. For this reason, scientists need to rely on animal models, which works, but showing the relevance in animal models to humans is a challenge. Despite these challenges, use of AI, predictive modeling, and other computations as well as bioinformatics tools are powerful solutions to help analyze the collected data, in her opinion. At times, previously known data or hypotheses can change based on the research data gathered. It takes time to re-work and strategize. It also makes research challenging, but Lisa considers this exciting.
“If everything is perfect and as we predict, there won’t be much left to do.”
In terms of the future of immunology research, Lisa predicts that it will require collaborations among various disciplines, whether it is in basic sciences or engineering for development of disease prediction, new generation therapeutics and novel delivery systems.
Finally, Lisa is motivated by the fulfillment which comes from knowing that her work contributes to improvement of patients’ lives. It keeps her focused on impactful research instead of just focusing on KPIs and outputs. She continues to make a difference and leads her team to advance research in infectious diseases and immunology.