​Leading the four teams that were each awarded grants of up to $10 million from the National Research Foundation are (from left) Professor Peter Wong, Dr Stephen Cohen, Associate Professor Ravi Kambadur, and Dr Winston Shim. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Sometimes a heart attack is just the beginning of a patient's problems. Often, the organ is permanently damaged, leaving a patient bedridden or causing him to gasp for air after a simple walk in the park. 

But one day, doctors might be able to repair that damage by growing replacement heart cells with samples of a patient's skin. 

One team of scientists here has just been awarded up to $10 million to help make that ambitious goal a reality. 

The team from the National Heart Centre Singapore will start by testing its techniques on animals, and hopes to create viable heart tissue for humans in about five years. 

Yesterday, three other groups of scientists were each also awarded research grants of up to $10 million - among the biggest in Singapore - for work related to ageing. 

The grants, from the National Research Foundation (NRF), come as Singapore's population is poised to become one of the oldest in the world; by 2020, one in four Singaporeans will be above the age of 65 . 

These four projects were selected from 48 contenders looking for grants from the NRF, which sets the national direction for research and development. 

'We want to fund good R&D that will continue to help us understand the process of ageing and find ways that can allow all of us to live our lives more productively,' said Dr Francis Yeoh, the chief executive of the NRF. 

By 2020, the average life span will be extended to 97 for women and 92 for men, the NRF said. 
All areas of science and technology were open to the grant call, including robotics and nutrition. 
By chance, the four winners were from the biomedical sphere, said American professor James Foley, one of seven people who selected the winners. 

Prof Foley said: 'These four research proposals were selected because they were good ideas, their scientific methodologies were well thought out and they had the potential to make a lot of difference.' 

This is the first time this grant has had a theme. 

The four projects deal with failing hearts, muscle loss, stroke and neurodegenerative disorders that plague the elderly. 

The grant is one of the NRF's eight major programmes to push research and development here. 

The organisation has been allocated $5 billion over five years. Set up in 2006, it has so far committed $4 billion. 

The chairman of the Council for Third Age, which promotes active ageing, Mr Gerard Ee, said he was excited that Singapore had committed so much to scientific efforts that deal with ageing issues. 

'Even with the best efforts, there will still be challenges that we will face physically. We hope that Singaporeans can live full lives. 

'Socio-economic issues are just one aspect of ageing. They cannot exist on its own without science and technology,' he said. 

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