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Interview with Dr. Arif Bongso

What attracted you to a career in biology/medicine?
  To be really honest it was circumstances and survival. During my A'Levels in the 1960s, the biological sciences took pride of place over the arts, and becoming a doctor, veterinarian or dentist guaranteed a job and hence my desire to pursue a career in one of these three professions. Thereafter it was the diversity of the animal kingdom in terms of reproductive physiology that attracted me to first build a strong foundation in comparative developmental biology and then focus on human reproductive biology. I started off as a veterinarian and then specialized in human in vitro fertilization. I had a very inquisitive mind and was passionate about medical research. I was and still fascinated by the events surrounding fertilization and embryogenesis in particular the power of the organelles of the human oocyte.


Who are your scientific heroes?
  Mendel. His laws of inheritance from pea plants have stood the test of time and even apply today in animals and the human. We see hybrid vigour through crossbreeding in cattle, sheep and pigs and inbreeding depression in companion animals via purebreeding. We see the same in humans; hybrid vigour manifested in the form of exceptional talent in the children of mixed marriages and illnesses in the children of families that encourage marriages within the family.


Which scientist has made the biggest impact in your field?
  Bob Edwards for his development of In Vitro Fertilization in the human. In stem cells, James Thomson for pursuing my work to develop the world's first human embryonic stem cell line.


What paper had the most influence on you?
  A 1950s paper on sperm capacitation by M.C. Chang. The thoughts were very well conceptualized, the objectives clearly laid out, the experiments elegant, flawless and well designed and the final conclusions convincingly presented.


What's the best advice you ever had?
  Do not make money out of the sick.


What's the worst advice you ever had?
  Give up if it does not work. I now firmly believe that one should not give up. Pursue with a vengeance.


What was your biggest thrill in science?
  Seeing embryos grow in a laboratory dish through 9 days. Each day was one of fascination and euphoria as many microscopic events were taking place and could be observed.


What are the main issues confronting stem cell researchers?
  For hESCs, (a) the ethical constraints (b) availability of reliable human material that can be used for clinical application and (c) the concerns of teratoma formation from renegade hESCs during transplantation therapy. For somatic stem cells (b) the stability and actual long term function of somatic stem cell differentiated tissues (c) the differentiation of somatic stem cells into bona fide desirable tissues.


How should we deal with ethical/moral issues associated with stem cell research?
  Have dialogue with those who confront us. Awareness and clearly explaining the intentions and benefits is the key to solving most of the problems. Ethics is a personal issue. For some it would be like trying to prove that a lime is round. If the intention is to help mankind then we may have no choice but to proceed with consensus.


What are the main attractions of working in Singapore?
  Good infrastructure, discipline, good and transparent regulatory framework, ample funding, encouragement and support from the higher echelons of government. What more can one ask!


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Featured Researcher Dr. Arif Bongso

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Dr. Arif Bongso



 

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