​A professor, researcher, clinician scientist and consultant, Professor Derek John Hausenloy seems to wear many hats in the field of medicine. To add to the list, he has since taken on the role of Academic Vice Chair, Research, SingHealth Duke-NUS Cardiovascular Sciences Academic Clinical Programme (CVS ACP) in May 2021.

With over 300 authored papers under his belt, Prof Derek was named Highly Cited Researcher (top 1% of researchers in Web of Science) by Clarivate, not once but thrice in 2018, 2020 and 2021. Prof Derek shared that he has always been passionate in research on protecting and preserving heart function against injury from heart attack, also termed ‘heart protection’.

Stories from the Heart sat down to chat with Prof Derek.

Please share a little bit about yourself.

My parents are from Mauritius, and I was born in the United Kingdom. I graduated from the University of Manchester, England, and undertook my senior medical house officer training in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge where I decided to pursue a career in Cardiology. Following this, I undertook a laboratory-based PhD in Cardiovascular Research focusing on mitochondria as targets for heart protection. I completed my cardiology training in London and continued to develop both basic science and clinical research in heart protection.

I was a consultant cardiologist at University College London Hospital in 2008 and then a Professor in Cardiovascular Medicine at University College London in 2014. In 2015, I took up the opportunity at the Duke-NUS Medical School and NHCS to set up a translational research programme in heart protection in Singapore, and ever since, I have been calling Singapore my home.

What are the research areas you are passionate about?

My research focus has always been on protection of the heart against injury from heart attack - to preserve the pumping function and prevent the onset of heart failure, which involve both laboratory and clinical research. Being able to undertake cardiovascular research in Singapore has provided me the opportunity to investigate features of heart disease that differ from Western populations and unique to South-East Asia, which could potentially help in finding and developing new treatments to improve health outcomes for our local population.

Are you working on any interesting projects of late?

I am particularly excited about a new state-of-the-art heart imaging MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine that NHCS recently got in. This new technology will allow us to obtain unique real-time insights into heart metabolism.

Our research teams are also currently investigating ways to improve patient care and outcomes with the use of digital technology. I am thrilled and proud to share that we have recently received the NMRC Collaborative Centre Grant together with National University Heart Centre Singapore and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, to support multi-centre clinical trials in recruiting patients across the three centres. I am hopeful about the research findings this collaboration can bring.

What are your goals and aspirations for cardiovascular research?

I am keen to bring together and better integrate our laboratory and clinical researchers across NHCS. The recent CVS ACP Research Seminar Series held in September and coming up in December would help foster collaborations among basic science, translational and clinical researchers to share on their research works and findings. At national and global level, I hope to connect with researchers from different institutions and hospitals and form collaborations to elevate cardiovascular research, for example the Singapore National Cardiovascular Research Symposium held in November was a collaborative platform to enable aspiring researchers to share their latest research achievements.

What do you do when you hit a rut in research?

Research can be challenging, especially when translating research ideas from bench to bedside for patient benefits - this requires grit, determination, creative thinking, and sometimes, a little luck to overcome.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far and to what do you attribute these successes?

Moving to Singapore and establishing the cardiovascular translational research programme has been one of my best decisions in my life and it was also the first research team I put together independently. I am thankful for the dedication and hard work of our research team and valuable support from colleagues at Duke-NUS and NHCS.

What will you be, if not a researcher?

I have been lucky to pursue my goal in becoming a clinician scientist undertaking bench-to-bedside research. I guess if I had not pursued research, I would have continued as a clinical cardiologist specialising in cardiac imaging.