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22 March 2016

Congratulations to Dr. Sachel Mok, from Assoc. Prof. Zbynek Bozdech lab, for being awarded the prestigious Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) Postdoctoral Fellowship

This highly competitive and sought-after fellowship provides generous funding only for the most talented of postdoctorate scientists worldwide. Human Frontier Science Program Office supports research at the interface between life sciences and the natural sciences and engineering and places special emphasis on creating opportunities for young scientists.

Dr. Sachel shares more on her research:

I have always been interested in working on a public health related disease and that is how I chanced upon Prof Zbynek Bozdech (Prof ZB)’s research during my undergraduate studies. His research that combined cutting edge tools of using microarrays to interrogate the genome and transcriptome of the P. falciparum parasite, the etiological agent of Malaria disease, matched my interests and started my career in science.

I have been studying the transcriptional plasticity in Plasmodium parasites and antimalarial drug resistance for the past 10 years, under Prof ZB since joining as a Final Year Undergraduate Student in 2006 then later completing my PhD and continuing as a post-doctoral research fellow in his lab.

My work in his lab cumulated in the co-authorship of 17 publications including 3 first-author papers with the most recent as first author in the Science journal in 2015. In our recent publication, I characterized artemisinin resistance in P. falciparum malaria parasites by carrying out transcriptional profiling of more than 1,000 drug-resistant field isolate samples taken from 14 sites across South east Asia. Through this study, we carefully characterized the global gene expression signatures of the artemisinin-resistant phenotypes and found that the resistant parasites exhibited increased expression in genes associated with protein folding and protein metabolic pathways, suggesting that the resistant parasites have enhanced capability to withstand the protein damage inflicted upon drug exposure. On the other hand, these resistant parasites had differential growth rates during their asexual lifecycle which allowed for better survival rates.

This week marks the completion of my 10 years in Prof Bozdech’s laboratory but signals the start of moving forward towards an independent investigator position and more exciting opportunities ahead. 

I am very honored and thrilled to be given this award and to be the first Singaporean to attain this prestigious award since Singapore joined HSPO as a member in 2014.  (This year, a total of 69 fellowship awards were given from a total of 697 applications world-wide after a highly competitive selection process.)

Getting this prestigious international Human Frontiers Science Program 3-year award provides me with the opportunity to carry out these studies in Prof Fidock Laboratory at Columbia University, NY, USA where I will further my research on exploring antimalarial drug resistance and using revolutionary techniques to characterize the genetic basis of malaria parasite’s resistance to current antimalarial drugs, a step that will support elimination of this public health disease affecting millions world-wide.

I hope that this achievement will inspire others like myself who start with little beginnings to pursue and press on each and every day, knowing that we can reach our goals if we put our hearts and minds into whatever we do. 

Dr. Sachel Mok