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​First LKCMedicine PhD by Research student graduates

Published on: 18-Mar-2020

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LKCMedicine has conferred its first PhD by Research degree on Lee Shuen Yee. Shuen Yee is part of the first batch of PhD students admitted in 2016. Before LKCMedicine, she did a BSc (Hons) in Sport and Exercise Science at Loughborough University in the UK, and knew she wanted to continue in the same field of exercise science, but in metabolic diseases rather than performance. While she was considering her PhD options, the Professor of Exercise Metabolism and Associate Dean for Research at Loughborough, David Stensel, told her about the PhD by Research programme which was just launched by LKCMedicine and introduced her to LKCMedicine Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology Fabian Lim.

"I have always been interested in sports and exercise, partly because I spent a large part of my childhood and school-going days doing wushu, a contemporary Chinese martial art," said Shuen Yee. "I took the Physical Acitivty and Health module in my final year at Loughborough University, which I loved, and thought to myself then that if exercise could improve chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, why aren't people exercising more? Since then, I knew I wanted to research broadly in the area of exercise and health."

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With only a few exercise physiology labs in Singapore, Shuen Yee was heartened to discover that A/Prof Lim's research interest aligned with hers. Looking at Singapore's rapidly ageing population, Shuen Yee thought that A/Prof Lim's lab would be the right platform with the resources she needed to look into how exercise could be the answer to managing the many age-associated chronic diseases that would become a healthcare burden. "Without a second thought, I applied for the PhD programme, where I knew I could continue research into exercise and metabolic diseases in a world-class research institute," she said. "These answers could perhaps contribute to the existing body of research on health and exercise, and to provide more concrete evidence on the pathways and benefits of exercise on health."

During her four-year PhD journey, Shuen Yee published a total of four papers in line with her thesis, which focused on the associations of fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) and the lung microbiome, with exercise and ageing health. The four papers were split into the different aspects of ageing health: effects of FGF21 on glucose metabolism with ageing and exercise, age-associated changes in the lung microbiome, effects of FGF21 on age-related decline in bone health, and associations of FGF21 with oxidative stress and arterial stiffness, under the influence of ageing and exercise.

A chapter from one of her papers "FGF21 mediates the associations between exercise, ageing and glucose regulation" was published in February 2020 in the Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE), a premium journal by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). She was also invited to write an Active Voice commentary on this research in the weekly electronic ACSM Sports Medicine Bulletin that appeared before her paper, which she co-authored with A/Prof Lim. The MSSE goes out to 50,000 members and affiliates.

"Having Shuen Yee's work appear in MSSE puts LKCMedicine and NTU in front of the international exercise and sports science and sports medicine community, as ACSM is the world's largest professional organisation for sports medicine," said A/Prof Lim. "It's a double recognition to have her published work selected by ACSM to be featured in the Sports Medicine Bulletin as an "Active Voice" commentary – I believe we are the first in Singapore to do this. Another of Shuen Yee's studies, on the associations of FGF21 with oxidative stress and arterial stiffness in young and older adults, published in Antioxidants journal, was also selected to be featured on the front cover of the journal. These achievements reflect the excellence in Shuen Yee's PhD work and the recognition given to her by the international scholastic community."

"I feel honoured to be LKCMedicine's first PhD by Research graduate. The research culture at LKCMedicine is one where multidisciplinary collaboration is encouraged and supported. In addition, PhD students have a strong support and mentoring network that caters not only for scientific excellence, but also for emotional well-being," said Shuen Yee. "LKCMedicine has a global health awareness programme that allows us to have a less myopic view of the world and the issues that we face, to have a broader context for our research questions and on top of that, provides a platform to bond with the fellow PhD batch mates during the overseas attachment."

Shuen Yee is currently involved in population health and policy research on physical activity and lifestyle at the Health Promotion Board of Singapore.


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