• The Khoo Scholars Programme matches Dr Kalimuddin with a scientific mentor that helps her research in dengue, a poorly understood disease that affects up to 100 million people a year
  • They are looking into establishing a non-invasive way to track the progress of dengue

Dr Shirin Kalimuddin, Associate Consultant at Singapore General Hospital (SGH)’s Department of Infectious Diseases, joined the Khoo Scholars Programme in June 2015.

The structured mentoring Programme linked Dr Kalimuddin with a senior scientific mentor: Professor Subhash Vasudevan of the Emerging Infectious Disease Programme, at Duke-NUS Medical School.

The combination brings two individuals from the two sides of clinical research: the basic sciences in the labs of Duke-NUS and clinical application at the bedside in SGH.

“We started talking to clinicians in SGH as we had a specific application in dengue. We were trying to establish a clinically-approved imaging technique, FDG-PET (F-Fludeoxyglucose Position Emission Tomography), as an imaging biomarker of inflammation in acute dengue infection. We saw the strong possibility of the research translating rapidly to the clinic, and somehow all the pieces fell in place,” said Prof Vasudevan.

“What drives us is the potential to move closer to drug development for dengue and have a clinical impact,” said Dr Kalimuddin.

She explained that dengue has an immense public health impact, affecting up to 100 million people a year. However, there is no approved treatment or vaccine for the disease. Its pathogenesis is poorly understood, and early disease can be difficult to accurately diagnose.

Their hypothesis is that FDG-PET imaging can non-invasively monitor disease progression in dengue. This will potentially have an integral role to play in therapeutic drug development for dengue and they hope to translate this research into human trials next year.

This mentorship has allowed Dr Kalimuddin to be closely involved with the study, giving her firsthand insights into its science, and even handling trials in animal models for the first time.

“A clinician’s role in a trial is usually in providing new therapies to our patient. Being in the Khoo Scholars Programme has been a good opportunity for me to go back upstream and start with a hypothesis before taking it forward together with a research team,” said Dr Kalimuddin.

“Shirin doesn’t just observe from a distance but participates, which is quite unique,” affirms Prof Vasudevan.

Prof Vasudevan summed up mentorship with this analogy: “Mentorship is like cricket. The mentee is the batsperson, and the mentor teaches how to do single runs. When the mentee swings the big hit at a match, the mentor’s job is to clap for her.”

Every single success helps the mentee learn and build experience. Prof Vasudevan added: “When Shirin gets her own research grants, publishes her own papers, brings this research to the clinic and makes it successful, I will be the one clapping. I’m teaching her to do single runs, but the big hits are what she will end up with.”


Khoo Scholars Programme, funded by the Khoo Foundation’s “Khoo Infrastructure Award” and organised by AMRI, is designed to help budding clinician-researchers in developing competitive grant proposals over a period of 18 months. In this programme, budding clinician-researchers are provided with mentors to guide them in developing their research ideas into competitive grants. Grants for pilot studies are available for those who need pilot data. The preparation of the grants is further enhanced through opportunities provided for the clinician-researchers to regularly present their ideas and work to expert panels at scientific seminars for feedback and advice.

For more information about the Khoo Scholars Program and other resources and support from Talent Development @ AMRI, visit https://www.academic-medicine.edu.sg/amri/content/talent-development-td