Asian Phenotypic Diseases – A Real Phenomenon


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Are we aware of the severity of the problems around us? Or are we just looking the other way, because we pale at the thought of putting in an effort to stop this epidemic. Along with the technological revolution came a silent killer, creeping into our homes and taking over our lifestyles.

That’s right , I’m talking about unhealthy food and couch-potato lifestyles!

When you hear someone mention “unhealthy food”, the first thing that probably springs to your mind would be fast food or food you can get at convenience stores, but are we really willing to kill ourselves for the sake of convenience? Short term gratification may be shortening our life spans.

The lack of awareness and health illiteracy often results in high rates of smoking, consumption of energy-dense food (fast food), poor sleep hygiene (staying up till 3 a.m. to meet that deadline or to study for your exams), and increasing sedentary time on the computer and television (need I say more?).

A recent, Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) published in Lancet showed that bad diets and unhealthy lifestyles have become the biggest threat to life expectancy globally with over 71.3% (7 in 10) deaths attributed to heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, all of which are affected by diet and lifestyle.

These adverse lifestyle choices are resulting in abnormal neuro-hormonal responses manifesting as obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

Asian Phenotypic Diseases


Diabetes is a condition where blood glucose level is high because the body cannot produce any/enough insulin or is not working properly and not responding to insulin termed insulin resistance.

Several studies have shown that Asians are comparatively more predisposed to developing diabetes compared to their Caucasian counterparts of a similar body mass index or stature. The propensity of Asians to store fat viscerally (deep within your abdominal cavity hiding between your organs) rather than subcutaneously (the fat that you can pinch) is thought to be the cause for this. Visceral fat is to put simply, bad and has been linked to a wide range of metabolic diseases including increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Lean diabetes refers to patients with low-normal body mass index, who show insulin resistance and are highly prone to diabetes. A study on 10,000 type 2 diabetic indians, revealed that almost 63% of the patients had ideal body weight, yet had higher HbA1c, fasting and postprandial blood glucose levels. This belies the commonly held myth that obesity and “being fat” leads to diabetes.

A study showed that, in relatively lean subjects, Asians are more insulin-resistant than non-Asians with increased concentrations of free fatty acids and inflammatory markers. Further, Asian subjects exhibit higher glucose excursion during oral glucose challenge (taken during pregnancy to test for gestational diabetes which develops during pregnancy), suggesting lower beta cell function to overcome insulin resistance than non-Asians.

Apart from the genetic predisposition to diabetes, the odds are stacked against us with increasing obesity and sedentary lifestyles. The numbers of children developing type 2 diabetes in South East Asia has doubled or even tripled in some countries which reflects the alarming rise of childhood obesity in South East Asia. This means that the next generations might be predominantly obese and/or diabetic. Infact, it has been projected that by 2050, 1 million Singaporeans will be suffering from diabetes!

Other Diseases Unique to the Asian Phenotype

Apart from diabetes, there are several diseases that are more prevalent in the asian phenotype than in the western world- such as Liver cancer, Oral and Gastric cancer, Lupus, Heart Failure and Congenital heart diseases, which can be broadly termed as Asian Phenotypic diseases. With Asia-Pacific being the home for more than 60% of the world population, it becomes imperative to tackle these issues in an asian context rather than basing our knowledge on western studies, especially with our unique phenotypes and genetic susceptibility to diseases.

Singapore Leaders of Tomorrow Forum

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The first step is awareness and discussion about the problems and solutions that could enable this change. In order to come up with more relevant solutions using the wide arsenal of biotechnology in conjunction with engineering, entrepreneurial and healthcare insights, an event- the inaugural Singapore Leaders of Tomorrow (SLoT) Forum 2016 is being held on the 19th of October at Singapore.

SLoT Forum, Singapore’s first-ever inter-generational bio-leadership conference, aims to bring together passionate leaders of tomorrow who will engage in insightful discussions with the current thought leaders and stakeholders of the biotech and healthcare industry and help advance the ecosystem in Singapore.

The focus of the panel discussions will be – “Asian Phenotypic Diseases : A real phenomenon” with distinguished panellists from a wide range of specialities and fields within biotechnology including Sir Greg Winter, the pioneer of therapeutic monoclonal antibodies; Dr Carl Firth, CEO of Aslan Pharma; Prof Bernhard Boehm, Professor of Metabolic Medicine, LKC School of Medicine; Dr Rosemary Tan, CEO of Veredus Laboratories, Dr. Pauline Tay, Deputy Director, NRF and several other distinguished panellists.

The event aims to bring forth valuable insights on both the biggest healthcare problems in Asia as well as the current bio-industry’s startup culture straight from present bio-leaders in the field.

About SLoT Forum

The SLoT Forum is based on the format of the acclaimed GapSummit, organized by Global Biotech Revolution, a not-for- profit organization founded by young bio-leaders, that is based at Cambridge, United Kingdom along with key supporting partner

For more information visit the event website here.