Nanyang Technological University

Charting new pathways in animal development:
Professor Philip Ingham

 

​Prof Philip Ingham, Professor of Developmental Biology and Vice-Dean for Research at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, is no stranger to new pathways, having contributed to several of the most influential discoveries in developmental biology over the last century.

His co-discovery of the Sonic Hedgehog gene was recognised as one of 24 centennial milestones in the field of developmental biology by the esteemed science journal, Nature, in 2004.

A pioneer in the genetic analysis of development using fruit flies and zebrafish as model systems, Prof Ingham’s research has revealed important links between embryonic development and cancer. Five of his publications are “citation classics”, including a major review of fruit fly embryonic development (published in Nature) that was one of the top 20 most cited life science papers in 1989.

Prof Ingham made his first major discoveries as a graduate student, identifying and characterising the function of the trithorax gene, a key component of the cell memory mechanism that underpins the programming of stem cells and that goes awry in cancer. Next, he pioneered the molecular genetic analysis of body segmentation in the fruit fly, helping define the hierarchy of genes that subdivide the embryo. This study led to his interest in the Hedgehog pathway, one of a handful of signalling systems that control the development of most animals, including humans.

In 1996, the gene encoding the Hedgehog receptor protein Patched, originally cloned and functionally characterised by Prof Ingham in fruit flies, was named “Cancer Gene of the Year”.

These discoveries provided the basis for development of the anti-cancer drug Vismodegib, the first FDA-approved therapeutic agent to target the Hedgehog pathway. The drug was named “Drug Discovery of the Year” in 2012 by the British Pharmacological Association.

Graduating in genetics from the University of Cambridge, Prof Ingham completed his PhD at the University of Sussex, going on to work at some of the most distinguished research institutions. He was a Principal Investigator at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge and at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories in Oxford and London, before becoming Founding Director of the MRC Centre for Developmental & Biomedical Genetics at the University of Sheffield, and Deputy Director of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at A*STAR, Singapore.

In 2013, Prof Ingham chose to continue his outstanding career at the newly-established Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, where he could be “in at the beginning and help build the reputation of Singapore’s newest medical school”. He said that the chance to join a dynamic, fast-growing university was “too exciting to resist”, and as Vice Dean of Research, he has been instrumental in devising the medical school’s research strategy, which aims to address the health challenges of Singapore and the wider region.

Prof Ingham was awarded the Balfour Memorial Prize by the Genetics Society of Great Britain in 1991, the Medal of the Genetics Society of Great Britain in 2005, and the Waddington Medal by the British Society for Developmental Biology in 2014. He has been a member of EMBO (the European Molecular Biology Organisation) since 1995, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences since 2001, Fellow of the Royal Society since 2002, and Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians since 2007. In 2013, he was elected President of the International Society of Developmental Biologists and in 2014 he was elected a member of one of Europe’s most prestigious academies, the Academia Europaea.

Prof Ingham holds 15 US patents and is author or co-author of 170 papers that have been cited over 18,600 times (H-index of 73).

 

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