Associate Professor Ashley St John from Duke-NUS' Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme received a National Research Foundation (NRF) Investigatorship Award for research that will focus on harnessing mast cells to improve antigen presentation and adaptive immune responses.  

The five-year NRF Investigatorship, which she received in December 2023, aims to give scientists and researchers the opportunity to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk research. Each award cycle supports a small number of excellent principal investigators whose track record marks them as leaders in their fields. Assoc Prof St John is one of eleven recipients from the ninth NRF Investigatorship call.

"I am very honoured to be given this award and opportunity because this specific grant is designed to fund highly innovative research. I appreciate the vote of confidence from the selection committee that the work coming from my research group is pushing boundaries and will generate new knowledge," said Assoc Prof St John.

In 2020, Assoc Prof St John received the NUS Young Researcher Award, in recognition of her standing as one of the top researchers in the field of immunology. Described then as a "brilliant young scientist", she has been studying immune responses to viral infections, pursuing research projects with significant translational impact.

Building on this work, Assoc Prof St John will use the award to advance understanding of how the immune system reacts to foreign materials.

"I expect that at the end of the five years of support, my lab will have important and unexpected new insights into how our immune system recognises foreign materials, which I hope will have implications for how we design vaccines for both infectious diseases and cancers," she said.

Congratulating her on receiving this prestigious award, Senior Vice-Dean for Research Professor Patrick Tan said, "This award is testimony to Ashley's outstanding work and her commitment to pursuing innovative, translational research. Her vision for harnessing the human immune system to fight not only foreign pathogens but also cancers has the potential to transform medicine and makes her an inspiring role model to other scientists, particular female scientists, as well as our students at Duke-NUS."

Adding his congratulations, Duke-NUS Dean Professor Thomas Coffman said, "This is highly deserved recognition of Ashley's scientific accomplishments and her future potential, and demonstrates Singapore's commitment to attracting, retaining and nurturing the best talent. Ashley has been working at the forefront of her field, pursuing translational research ideas that are already being translated from the lab into clinical applications. Supported with this grant, I am confident she will bring about advances that will improve the lives of people here and around the world."  

Assoc Prof St John joins previous recipients from Duke-NUS, namely Professors David Silver, Lok Shee-mei and Kanaga Sabapathy, who received the Investigatorship in 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively.

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