The study, titled Asian Immune Diversity Atlas, will capture data reflecting the genetic diversity of Asian populations.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - A team of scientists from Singapore, Japan and Korea has received the first Asian research network grant by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for a study on what causes Asian populations to be predisposed to certain diseases.

The scientists are from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star's) Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS), Japanese scientific research institute Riken and Korean tertiary hospital Samsung Medical Centre.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, founded by Dr Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in 2015, has funded the study - titled "Asian Immune Diversity Atlas (Aida)" - as part of the international Human Cell Atlas (HCA) collaboration.

Organisations such as Duke University and the California Institute of Technology have received funding under the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The HCA aims to characterise cells from diverse populations around the world. As the flagship project of HCA-Asia, AIDA will capture data reflecting the genetic diversity of Asian populations.

The Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and National Cancer Centre Singapore are also part of this research and aim to identify differences in the molecular properties of blood cells across Malay, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean groups.

Aida will study differences between individuals of the same ethnicity living in different countries. The results could advance new blood-based diagnostic tests and help us comprehend why some populations, or some individuals within a population, are more vulnerable to certain diseases.

Aida, led by Dr Shyam Prabhakar (GIS), Dr Jay Shin (Riken) and Professor Woong Yang Park (Samsung Medical Centre), will expand the geographical scope of the HCA by defining a map of cell types and states in the immune system, and characterise their differences associated with ethnicity, environment, age, sex and body mass index.

The study will include the development of new algorithms that integrate data generated at study sites in Singapore, Japan and South Korea to comprehensively define the properties of each cell type in human blood.

Dr Prabhakar, associate director of spatial and single cell systems at GIS, said: "By comprehensively characterising blood cells from over 500 Asians, this study will lay the foundation for developing a new kind of personalised medicine."

GIS executive director Patrick Tansaid: "(This regional collaboration) will help Singapore researchers develop new methods for diagnosing, monitoring, and eventually treating a whole range of diseases related to the immune system."

According to the 2015 International Diabetes Federation report, Singapore had the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations. While the currently project focuses on generating baseline data from healthy individuals, subsequent stages of AIDA will analyse samples from individuals with type-2 and type-1 diabetes, colorectal cancer and a range of other diseases, including potentially infectious diseases.