By Felicia Choo, The Straits Times

Diabetes patients may not have to go to the clinic to have their blood sugar levels checked in future, as they could get this done at home through remote technology - another arsenal in the war against diabetes.

Such is the concept of the diabetes clinic of the future, an approach which will be adopted at SingHealth's Diabetes and Metabolism Centre at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

The centre will use data analytics and medical technology including apps and high-precision robotic tools to improve diabetes care, from risk prediction to the monitoring, treatment and management of diabetes.

For instance, wearable technology such as smart apps can be used to track what patients eat - they simply need to take a picture of their food and input it into the app to calculate the nutritional content. This information can then be sent to doctors to monitor patients' conditions.

Dr Benjamin Seet, executive director of A*Star's biomedical research council, said the data collected would eventually be used in studies to improve patient care. The smart technology approach to diabetes is something that researchers hope to apply across the whole healthcare system, he added.

The use of technology to care for diabetes patients is one of the initiatives under a three-year partnership signed on Friday (Dec 8) between healthcare group SingHealth and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).

The SingHeath - A*STAR Research Partnership (video opens on Facebook)

Under the memorandum of understanding (MOU), SingHealth and A*Star will address prevalent diseases in Asia such as cancer and cardiovascular disease that carry a heavy economic burden, improve healthcare delivery and create value for the economy.

They will also focus on harnessing big data in precision medicine as well as innovation in immunotherapy and drug development.

The signing was witnessed by Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran.

He said: "The scientific and technical capabilities of A*Star's 18 research institutes will complement SingHealth's extensive healthcare expertise and resources, to enable seamless transition of cutting-edge healthcare discoveries and applications from bench to bedside."

In Singapore, one in three people is at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. A study by researchers in 2015 projected that the total economic cost from diabetes in Singapore, including productivity loss, would more than double from nearly US$787 million in 2010 to US$1.9 billion in 2050.

On using technology to help diabetes patients,Dr Goh Su-Yen, head of the department of endocrinology at SGH, said: "In our day-to-day dealings with people with diabetes, although we have very good systems in place already, we see a lot of gaps in care."

She added: "A lot of the information (on diabetic patients' conditions) resides in the hospital or the clinic; there isn't very good patient ownership of the information. We want to know how to get feedback from patients on how they are doing in daily living."

Separately, a new academic research facility opened at the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, located at the SGH campus, on Friday.

Called the Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre at SingHealth Duke-NUS, it aims to accelerate drug and vaccine development for infectious diseases such as dengue, zika and yellow fever.



Highlights from the MOU signing ceremony (photos: SINGHEALTH)