Aishwarya Bandla, Head, Translational Core, The N.1 Institute for Health, National University of Singapore

By Shirley Tay

Women in GovTech Special Report 2020.

How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.

I head the Translational Core, a multidisciplinary research program, in the N.1 Institute for Health, National University of Singapore. The N.1 institute works towards a vision of bridging innovation with clinical translation, while addressing pressing needs in areas such as personalised medicine, digital health and therapeutics, augmented cognition and training, and robotics, among other areas.

The N.1 Translational Core, led by a bioengineer-clinician team, aims to translate wearable bioengineering solutions for clinically relevant questions in a “bedside to bench and back” approach. We focus on developing non-invasive therapeutics and diagnostics for identified unmet clinical needs. On the bench side, mechanisms are studied, and therapeutic parameters optimized using in vitro and in vivo models. These devices are then tested in clinical trials in healthy volunteers and patients for safety and efficacy.

As a biomedical engineer, the path of healthtech product innovation and development allows me to engage with multidisciplinary professionals who each add a unique flavour to the pursuit of creating the best user-centred solution. It is exciting to be able to work with like-minded colleagues at the institute, leveraging advances in technology and medicine to create solutions which can ultimately help improve health and healthcare.

What was the most impactful project you worked on this year?

Being part of an ecosystem, which fosters practice-changing innovation, our research efforts are healthcare-needs driven towards building patient-centred solutions. One of the projects which has emerged from the Translational Core is a wearable device for cancer supportive care.

Cancer treatment has advanced tremendously and so have the survival rates and median survival time. However, an increasing number of cancer survivors suffer with immense toxic side effects of cancer treatment, specifically from chemotherapy. We have developed a wearable technology solution to prevent one such serious neurological side effect of chemotherapy which disrupts cancer treatment itself, apart from affecting the quality of life of over 1.5 million cancer patients worldwide and imposing a huge health economic burden. The developed wearable device targets prevention of this debilitating side effect called chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and helps cancer survivors return to work and to independently engage in daily activities. Our team’s experience working with and hearing from patients and caregivers on how our technology has made the quality of their lives better is humbling and extremely gratifying.

What is one unexpected learning from 2020?

The year 2020 has been challenging and transformational on so many fronts. It has given us a chance to embrace the power of what can be achieved when individuals, organizations and societies work together with a shared sense of purpose, priority, and commitment. For example, healthcare innovation, which on a “normal day”, can take several years to reach patient care, saw rapid translation through open innovation and collaboration. These lessons of innovation, resilience and adaptability are something worth taking forward into the “new normal” to keep future-ready.

What tool or technique particularly interests you for 2021?

The digital transformation of healthcare which has fast-tracked in 2020 has vast potential to improve health and healthcare delivery. With the growing adoption of digital health wearables, the power of healthcare is literally in the hands of the citizen, and the focus shifts to preventive, predictive and personalized care. These also have immense potential in aiding early, faster, personalized clinical decision making, reducing healthcare costs. As accelerated innovation continues in 2021, we will be exploring the integration of these wearable health technologies into clinical care.

What are your priorities for 2021?

As a research group our multidisciplinary team will continue to work on the ongoing development of our wearable technology, with an aim to bring it closer to being implemented to benefit more patients worldwide.

Apart from this, I volunteer with IEEE which is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. I look forward to working with the IEEE Women in Engineering Asia Pacific executive committee to encourage women engineers and scientists, and to mentor and inspire girls to follow their interests in STEM careers.

What advice would you give to women looking to start a career in GovTech?

As Industry 4.0 continues to unfold, this is a wonderful and exciting time to be in a tech career. It is even more important, while making informed and savvy choices in careers, to highlight that everyone brings a unique set of skills and strengths to the table.

While more female graduates are choosing to continue in STEM careers these days, we need more women to take that first step to join and pursue careers in tech. The call to action for the new generation of women in tech will be to equip themselves to be future-ready and to be empowered from within. Actively seek out diverse mentors and sponsors who can guide you to seize or create your own opportunities. When you have reached your target, “pay it forward” by mentoring and inspiring a new generation of young innovators aspiring to join the tech sector!