​For Senior Cardiology Resident Dr Wong Jie Jun, attaining the esteemed American Heart Association (AHA) Paul Dudley White International Scholar Award seemingly appears to be an easy feat. The Award, which takes place at the AHA EPI Lifestyle Scientific Sessions each year, honours only the highest ranked abstract from each country. It is remarkable that Dr Wong has achieved this honour not once but twice during his stint as a resident, first in 2021 and most recently in March 2024. 

Dr Wong spills the secrets to the success of his research journey thus far.

Dr Wong Jie Jun represented Singapore and won the AHA 2024 Paul Dudley White International Scholar Award for abstract "Favourable Ventricular-Arterial Mechanics Among Women is Associated with Better Mitochondrial Oxidation in the Left Ventricle". 

What are your research interests and who has been your greatest influence?

Understanding cardiovascular ageing and the determinants of successful healthy ageing have been my primary focus since I started research. Influenced by the global ageing trend and the rising cardiometabolic disease burden, I understand the importance of adopting early upstream approaches in disease prevention in preclinical community populations to prevent late-stage, irreversible, established diseases and their morbid complications. It is also interesting to note that different groups of people have unique characteristics and experiences that can affect how diseases develop in their bodies. Therefore, recognising that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, I am motivated to learn and invest in more personalised precision medicine approaches. 

Structural heart intervention is another area of research interest. Innovation has historically been the behavioral advantage in humankind's evolution and this has inspired me to develop new ways to enhance and extend our lives.

While my research journey started out merely as a curiosity, it has evolved into a passion allowing me to extend my role as a physician to not just treatment but to understand more about the human population. These notions are somewhat philosophical and have been very fulfilling. Where I am today could not have been possible without my mentor, Assoc Prof Angela Koh, who has been my source of continuous growth. In her words - "It takes a village to nurture a researcher” - I am immensly grateful to my research team and department for their fervent support that inspires me to continue this arduous yet rewarding unbeaten path.

Your winning abstract has garnered significant attention – tell us more about it?

Past literature has established that women's hearts and vessels age differently than men's and are characterised by increased cardiac wall thickness, concentric remodeling, and disproportional vascular wall stiffness. Long-chain acylcarnitines, which are free fatty acids predominantly metabolised in the mitochondria, are used as markers of mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation. 

In the abstract, we explored the role of mitochondrial dysfunction, a key hallmark of ageing, in explaining sex differences in cardiac function and ventricle-aorta coupling mechanics. In conjunction with cardiovascular magnetic resonance, we employed serum metabolomics technologies to precisely identify the dysregulated cellular processes occurring to detect subtle preclinical ageing-related cardiovascular changes in healthy community older adults. 

We found that women had better cardiac contractility than men, which was linked to lower levels of long-chain acylcarnitines, suggesting better mitochondrial oxidation independent of body habitus, smoking status, and hemodynamics (diastolic blood pressure). Therefore, mitochondrial ageing may explain in part, why women and some individuals have better preserved cardiac contractility than others. The study demonstrates the utility of circulating metabolites as novel precision medicine markers for sex-based stratification of ageing-related cardiovascular risk.

As young as you are in your healthcare career, your research achievements are nothing short of inspiring. What advice would you offer for those who are just beginning their research journey?

Nothing that is worthwhile is ever easy. Find your flow state and discover the immense joy that makes life worth living. Interrogate your purpose until it becomes irrefutable; find a mentor to grow with; and get inspired by world leaders. When it comes to research, it’s important to study something you are passionate about. Your interest will keep you motivated, helping you push through despite the challenges you will face along the way.

Winning the Paul Dudley White International Scholar Award twice is an exceptional achievement. How does it feel to be recognised by the American Heart Association once again for your work?

As a young researcher, being awarded the Paul White Dudley International Scholar holds profound meaning at a global level and is immensely invigorating. This award is a testament of the hard work of the team and inspires us to persevere towards our goals. It also reminds us to be thankful to our peers, seniors, mentors, and department for the unreserved stream of encouragement and support throughout the years, and encourages us to continue striving to place NHCS up on the academic world stage and alongside other global research institutions.

Looking back, what has been your greatest challenge; Looking ahead, what are your aspirations for the future?

It was not easy finding time for research admist clinical duties as formulating and writing a research paper demands cognitive space. Although I had to spend precious weekends, holidays, and post-call periods to write, I’m grateful towards my understanding family and supportive mentor, who have been indispensable in my research journey.

With the award recognition, we are certainly moving in the right research direction in cardiovascular ageing prevention and precision population health with omics-based and personalised data. We will continue working on our research and common goals - extend and refine our hypotheses, examine novel unanswered questions, and look for new collaborations.

It was a surreal and humbling experience for Dr Wong (middle) as he stands alongside other AHA Paul Dudley White International Scholar Award 2024 receipients who are professors, post-doctoral researchers and field experts.

Dr Wong shared that he enjoyed a fruitful exchange of ideas and sharing of opinions with other presenters and leading experts in their fields at the AHA scientific session. The discussions not only help refine their research direction, offer alternative problem-solving strategies, but also open up new perspectives and novel hypotheses. Congratulations once again to Dr Wong and his team for the exceptional achievement!