Stem Cell Technology Breakthrough


A multidisciplinary research team from the Department of Pharmacy in collaboration with Duke-NUS Medical School, National Cancer Centre Singapore and Singapore General Hospital have developed a novel, fast and potentially cost-effective technique to expand the amount of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPC) in umbilical cord blood. This can be harvested to treat more than 80 diseases, including blood cancers, as well as metabolic and immune disorders. 

C7, a small molecule designed and synthesised by Prof Christina CHAI and her team from the Department of Pharmacy, is the key to this breakthrough in stem cell technology as C7 has the ability to expand umbilical cord blood stem cells. Nano-technology based drug delivery specialist Prof Gigi CHIU also contributed to this discovery. Subsequent to the discovery of C7, efforts were made to elucidate the expansion mechanism of C7 through the design and synthesis of C7 analogues.

Currently, the volume of HSPC taken from the umbilical cord is insufficient for most adult patients requiring transplants. The expansion of HSPCs is therefore critical to address this clinical issue. 

The team found that the addition of C7 yielded more HSPC within a shorter duration. This significant advancement enables more patients to benefit from umbilical cord blood transplants.



Laboratory-synthesised compound C7 has the ability to expand the amount of umbilical cord blood stem cells


The team collaborated with Prof William HWANG, Duke-NUS Medical School, on clinical applications. 

This is the first such technique developed and patented in Singapore. The team has been awarded an Innovation and an Ignition grant from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Innovation Centre, as well as an Innovation to Develop grant from the National Health Innovation Centre.


The research team includes (from left) Prof Hwang, Prof Chai, Prof Chiu, Dr Zhong Qixing and Dr Sudipto Bari (Photo credit: NCCS)