Viva Foundation for Children with Cancer founder Jennifer Yeo and Dr Pui Ching-hon, chairman of St Jude Children's Research Hospital's oncology department, speaking during a dinner at the Chui Huay Lim Club yesterday.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

St Jude in the US to share knowledge with S'pore, China

Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times

An alliance of hospitals in Singapore, China and the United States will collaborate to improve children's cancer research in Asia.

Under a memorandum of understanding signed on Friday, experts from St Jude Children's Research Hospital in the US will share their knowledge and expertise on treating acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) with healthcare professionals in Singapore and China.

St Jude boasts a 94 per cent cure rate for ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer.

In turn, healthcare professionals in regional countries such as the Philippines will be able to tap Singapore and China as hubs to improve their own knowledge.

Singapore-based charity Viva Foundation for Children with Cancer announced the alliance during a dinner at the Chui Huay Lim Club in Keng Lee Road yesterday.

The foundation, which is also registered in Hong Kong as the Viva China Children's Cancer Foundation, inked the agreement with St Jude, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), the National University Hospital (NUH) and the Shanghai Children's Medical Centre (SCMC).

Viva's founder, Mrs Jennifer Yeo, said: "We want to be the bridge between the hospitals, to spread knowledge, expertise and technology from the US to Singapore, China and the region."

She added that the alliance will pave the way for collaborative research projects in paediatric oncology and possibly other fields of medicine such as cardiology.

Dr Pui Ching-hon, chairman of St Jude's oncology department, said an ongoing research project at SCMC studying about 6,000 children with leukaemia could help plug gaps in current research and improve children's cancer care in Singapore and South-east Asia.

"Research in the past has been mostly done on Caucasian populations in Western Europe and North America," said Dr Pui.

"But we now know that there are ethnic differences in the incidence of leukaemia and tolerance to leukaemia treatment."

As part of the alliance, Viva also announced the launch of the new St Jude-Viva Asia-Pacific Nursing Institute yesterday.

Under a year-long pilot programme for the institute, four nurses from the Philippines General Hospital in Manila and the Southern Philippines Medical Centre in Davao will receive hands-on training at NUH and KKH. They will also receive monthly online training sessions after they return to the Philippines.

Mrs Yeo, who also chairs Viva, said that if the programme is successful, the foundation aims for the institute to become a permanent training hub for nurses in the region.

The nurses are among the 300 doctors, nurses and allied health specialists from 20 countries who are in Singapore for the 13th St Jude-Viva Forum on paediatric oncology that ends today. The annual two-day forum is organised by Viva for paediatric oncologists to network and share knowledge.

Mrs Yeo, who is the wife of former foreign minister George Yeo, set up Viva in 2006 to link St Jude with NUH and the National University of Singapore (NUS) to boost cure rates here.

The couple's youngest child, Frederick, was diagnosed with ALL at the age of three and battled the disease for years. In 2005 at age 11, he was cured following a bone marrow transplant at St Jude and is now studying to become a doctor.

The foundation opened a children's cancer centre at NUH in 2009 and launched the Viva-NUS Centre for Translational Research in Acute Leukaemia in 2016.