Dr Ho Ying Swan, Principal Scientist, Analytical Science & Technology (Metabolomics), Bioprocessing Technology Institute, A*STAR, Singapore

By Sean Nolan

Women in GovTech Special Report 2021.

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

I am a scientist at A*STAR’s Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI). I lead the metabolomics group, which looks at the large-scale study of small molecules, and also coordinate research in the application of analytical science and technologies to address emerging challenges in the biomanufacturing sector.

Together with local companies, hospitals, universities and other public sector researchers, we seek to improve the understanding of how new and complex drug products, such as cell and gene therapies, work most effectively to treat diseases.

Another important goal is to identify critical factors during manufacturing that influence the quality of these new therapies and to develop appropriate control strategies that ensure safety and consistency.

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

I am currently involved in a project that establishes critical capabilities for analytical testing in Singapore, to ensure that new therapeutic products are safe for use. The inter-agency project team is highly collaborative and assembles the top minds in Singapore in the fields of analytical chemistry, molecular biology and regulatory science.

What is one unexpected learning from 2021?

It is amazing how Covid-19 has transformed the way we work. Perhaps not so much an unexpected learning, but an important reminder nonetheless – that in the midst of our busy work schedules and online meetings, it is important and worthwhile to take a step back and show appreciation to the people in our lives.

This includes our families, for their constant support and encouragement in all our endeavours, particularly when we have to miss a family dinner to take that late night call; our project team members, for their willingness to go the extra mile to complete an important assignment or piece of research under tight timelines.

What is your favourite activity outside of work?

My favourite activity outside of work is to practice tai chi – not only does it allow me to improve my concentration and focus, it is also a great way to keep myself calm in the midst of our sometimes hectic lifestyles. Despite the common perception of tai chi as a relaxing activity more suited for the elderly, it is in fact quite a fitness workout, as described in a Harvard Medical School report, which equates the amount of calories expended in a 30-minute tai chi session to a game of badminton or volleyball.

What’s a tool or technique you’re excited to explore in 2022?

One of the rising trends currently is the application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in addressing healthcare challenges. We are very keen to explore the latest AI and systems modelling techniques to help us decipher the massive amounts of analytical information we are acquiring from biomanufacturing processes.

We believe that AI can help us zoom into the most critical parameters much faster and more accurately, so that our work can benefit patients sooner.

What are your priorities for 2022?

Keeping a healthy mind and body through regular workouts, so that we are ready to push ahead and make new discoveries & breakthroughs in the year ahead!

Who are the mentors and heroes that inspire you?

I am lucky to have had mentors at different stages of my life who have guided and spurred me on to a career in scientific research. The first was my junior college Chemistry teacher,  whose passion for teaching and ability to make abstract concepts easy to understand – and fun to learn – nurtured my interest in the subject.

I was further inspired by my father’s friend - a professional and post-doctoral chemical engineer, who introduced me to process chemistry and how its inventions have improved lives. I went on to follow in his footsteps and pursue a PhD in the field.

As a post-doctoral fellow, I was fortunate to have been mentored by Prof Miranda Yap, founding Executive Director of BTI and a champion of young scientists. Her constant encouragement for me to push boundaries and enter new territories was the key factor that led me to establish and subsequently, expand the metabolomics platform at BTI.

What gets you up in the morning?

The knowledge that the research we engage in every day contributes in some small way to improving human health and quality of life.