Associate Professor Lim Kah Leong says breakthroughs are powered by interdisciplinary partnerships, unrelenting curiosity and sometimes, serendipity. 

It was hard to picture Prof Lim’s entry into biology as a mature student in 1988, while he shared Parkinson’s disease (PD) breakthroughs today as the Assistant Director of Research and Head & Principal Research Scientist of the Neurodegeneration Research Laboratory at NNI.

Prof Lim’s journey as a scientist devoted to a chosen subject matter is representative of many researchers’ years of hard work and grit that sustain medical breakthroughs alongside cutting-edge technology. Today, Prof Lim is one of the leaders in the local neurodegeneration research frontier, actively working towards identifying PD markers that can provide early diagnosis for preventive interventions and enhance therapy development.

"Hope can be a very powerful medicine. When you are looking at disease-related research, the end point is to try and improve human lives." 
- Assoc Prof Lim Kah Leong

 Prof Lim and his team are part of a PD clinical science consortium headed by Professor Tan Eng King, Senior Consultant Neurologist and Director of Research of NNI, that was awarded the NMRC Translational and Clinical Research Flagship Programme Grant of $25 million for their work on the degenerative neurological disease.   Prof Lim considers PD an “equal opportunity” disease with about 0.3 per cent of Singapore’s population above 50 suffering from it regardless of culture and race.   The number is expected to increase more than 2.5 times by 2030.   NNI is in the race to develop better therapies as Singapore’s ageing population climbs.

A dedicated mentor in the laboratory, Prof Lim also teaches at Duke-NUS.   He seeks to educate student researchers that many things are interrelated, and scientists should balance topical focus with acknowledging the relationship between their causes and others’.   “Multidisciplinary approaches allow us to interrogate the system in ways we cannot do on our own. We have to recognise our strengths and also our limitations,” Prof Lim said.

A collaboration between Prof Lim’s laboratory and NUS Chemistry Professor Yao Shao Qin’s team led to the development of a fluorescence probe that tracks PD progression in patients’ blood, enabling potential early detection and preventive monitoring of PD. Prof Lim highlighted this partnership as an example of balancing research and networking, as one never knows how collaborations can form, “My post-doctoral fellow plays basketball with a chemist postdoctoral fellow at NUS, and the PD probe collaboration was a slam-dunk through their friendly discussions after ball games. People should go out and have fun as serendipitous discoveries can arise from events that you will not immediately tie into research.”

There are still many challenges to PD research, but Prof Lim feels the key is that ongoing research offers hope to patients with the disease. He shared, “Hope can be a very powerful medicine. When you are looking at disease-related research, the end point is to try and improve human lives. As an activist once shared: The funding that we receive as researchers is for the betterment of human health and not for the betterment of individual careers. I think that’s in essence what research, particularly disease-related research, should be.”