Customer in the spotlight: Dr. Ann-Marie Chacko

Dr. Ann-Marie ChackoThe Laboratory for Translational and Molecular Imaging (LTMI) at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore

What is your current position at Duke-NUS?

My official title is Head of the Duke-NUS Laboratory for Translational and Molecular Imaging (LTMI) and Assistant Professor in the Duke-NUS  Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Programme.

You recently moved to Singapore; What is your research focus at Duke-NUS?

I have been at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) in Singapore for just over two years and the research opportunities in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging are quite exciting. My research focus at Duke-NUS is on the preclinical characterisation of molecularly-targeted systems as diagnostics and/or therapeutics for translational applications. Using advanced state-of-the-art small animal imaging platforms, including the MILabs VECTorCT and our recently acquired ThorLabs MultiPhoton Microscope, my goal is to develop in vivo imaging approaches to non-invasively assess prognostic and therapeutic biomarkers for cancer, brain and immune function, and infectious diseases, especially with an Asian disease-centric focus.

LTMI also serves as a core facility for Duke-NUS researchers, and as a hub for emerging imaging research and technology development accessible to the broader research community across Singapore, including other academic institutes and industry groups.

How can the VECTorCT be used in the research of infectious diseases such as dengue fever?  

We have had the VECTorCT installed since April 2016, and this system has significantly enhanced our ability to use non-invasive imaging to understand the inflammatory host-response in mouse models of dengue virus infection. To our knowledge, this is the very first time PET imaging has been systematically evaluated in the field of acute viral infectious diseases. We are excited to be able to repurpose FDG-PET and generate robust images of live dengue infection. Not only can we visualize increased inflammation specifically in small intestines of dengue-infected mice, we can also predict the progression and severity of dengue-mediated inflammation with FDG-PET. In addition, we see that inflammation significantly subsides following effective antiviral treatment. We recently published our data in May 2017 in JCI Insight ( This is a joint effort between my group at LTMI, and the teams of Professor Subhash Vasudevan from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS, and Dr Jenny Low, Senior Clinical Consultant with the Department of Infectious Diseases at Singapore General Hospital.

>Serial 18F-FDG tissue analysis and PET/CT imaging to understand dynamic evolution of inflammatory foci in lethal mouse-adapted S221 DENV2 model.

The preclinical dengue imaging results obtained on the VECTorCT have been critical in justifying the translation of our findings to the clinic. We are currently recruiting volunteer subjects with dengue fever for a FDG-PET/MRI study to non-invasively identify foci of inflammation in dengue infection. Given that there are currently no approved drugs for dengue – which affects 500 million people globally – our hope is that FDG-PET can be used to transform the assessment of new dengue treatments in clinical trials so that infections may be more effectively treated.

We are now expanding the use of our MILabs Imaging system (PET, SPECT, and Ultra High Resolution CT) to evaluate novel imaging approaches to understand Zika virus infection, as well as Chikungunya virus infection in different mouse models.

What is the additional value of the embedded Ultra High Resolution CT for your current research?

The Ultra High Resolution CT (UHR-CT) subsystem to our VECTor has been a significant boost to our research collaborations in Singapore, in the context of two major applications. First is the ability to image bone density and bone remodelling in the settings of haemotologic cancer and infectious diseases. Second is the ability to measure dynamic cardiac response using the CT-gating add-on. This has been especially valuable in our research that is focused on cardiac tissue remodelling following fibrosis. While we are in the early stages of validating these approaches, we are keen to explore how we can push our UHR-CT substation to the limit, and identify new research opportunities.

 For media queries, please contact:

Ms Ong Yen May
Duke-NUS Medical School
Email: [email protected]
Tel: (65) 9841 1321

About Duke-NUS Medical School

The Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS, 杜克 - 新加坡国立大学医学院) was established in 2005 as a strategic collaboration between the Duke University School of Medicine, located in North Carolina, USA, and the National University of Singapore (NUS). Duke-NUS offers a graduate-entry, 4-year MD (Doctor of Medicine) training programme based on the unique Duke model of education, with one year dedicated to independent study and research projects of a basic science or clinical nature. Duke-NUS also offers MD/PhD and PhD programmes. Duke-NUS has five Signature Research Programmes: Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, Neuroscience and Behavioural Disorders, Emerging Infectious Diseases, Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders, and Health Services and Systems Research.

Duke-NUS and SingHealth have established a strategic partnership in academic medicine that will guide and promote the future of medicine, tapping on and combining the collective strengths of SingHealth’s clinical expertise and Duke-NUS’ biomedical sciences research and medical education capabilities.

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