A*STAR scholar, Dr Melissa Fullwood, has become the first Singaporean to win one of four Regional General Electric (GE) & Science Prizes for Young Life Scientists this year for her original essay, "Genome-Wide Chromatin Loops Regulate Transcription". This is a huge honour for the scientist in her 20s as she now ranks among 80 promising young scientists in the field of molecular biology worldwide who have received the Prize since it was first awarded in 1995. Many Prize winners now work in the world's most prestigious labs such as at the University of Tokyo, the University of Liege, Harvard University, and the University of California.
Dr Fullwood's winning essay addresses the unanswered question of why there are so few genes in the genome (which has abundant "non-gene" regions not coding for any specific proteins). It is based on her PhD project at the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering and A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS). Then, she was instrumental in developing a new technology to study how DNA interactions affected the development of cancer. Her findings demonstrated that there was a complex network of chromatin interaction between genes and non-coding regions of the genome, and that chromatin interactions could be the cause of genetic deregulations and diseases such as cancer. This major breakthrough in cancer research received funding from the National Institutes of Health in the United States and was published in premier scientific journal Nature.
Said Dr Fullwood, "I'm absolutely delighted to be a Regional Winner of the GE & Science Prize, and to have made a key discovery about the genome that will help many others in genomics research. I hope to continue unravelling the complexities of gene regulation, and to bring about further breakthroughs in our understanding of diseases and how they may be treated."
Dr Fullwood will receive a cash award of US$5,000 and a trip to Stockholm to receive the award on 10 December 2010 at the Grand Hôtel. In addition, her essay will be published on the Science website in December 2010. The GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists is an initiative between global healthcare product and service provider GE Healthcare and the highly regarded Science magazine to support and reward promising young scientists in the field of molecular biology.
Dr Fullwood has an impressive list of achievements to her name. She graduated with a Bachelor's in Biological Sciences with Honours from Stanford University in 2005, before going on to pursue her PhD in Genomics at the NUS Graduate School for Integrative Sciences and Engineering and A*STAR's Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) from 2006 to 2009. Dr Fullwood has also first-authored or co-first-authored six other research papers and reviews, as well as given presentations at several symposiums both overseas and locally.
Said Dr Fullwood's PhD mentor and Associate Director at GIS, Dr Ruan Yijun, "Melissa demonstrated that she has all the ingredients for success during her PhD studies in my group. She worked very hard and had great sense to integrate complicated data and tasks together. I am happy to see that Singapore has proved a very positive environment to nurture young talent like her. I am also glad that her accomplishments are starting to be recognised internationally. Melissa is clearly on track to becoming a star scientist, and we wish her all the best in her scientific career."
Dr Fullwood was also one of three recipients of the inaugural L'Oreal Singapore for Women in Science National Fellowships in August 2009. She was also one of 16 nominees under the Science and Technology category for the Great Women of Our Time Awards 2010, organised by The Singapore Women's Weekly magazine. She is currently a Lee Kuan Yew Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School under the A*STAR-Duke-NUS Neuroscience Research Partnership, where her research focuses on using genomic technologies to understand cell death pathways activated by cell stress.