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Prof Dario Campana

Scientist, Mrs Lee Kong Chian Chair in Advanced Cellular Therapy, National University of Singapore

Medical research is something that invigorates my soul, like how one feels energised by coffee early in the morning. My initial research did not pertain to childhood cancer; I was trained in adult oncology. But my interest in childhood cancer grew after my move to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where I realised that I would be able to make a greater impact through research in leukaemia.

I first came to Singapore as a speaker at the St Jude-VIVA Forum and was very impressed by VIVA’s commitment to support paediatric oncology. Our belief in VIVA, together with the excellent research funding and vibrant academic setting here, were the key reasons my wife Elaine and I took a leap and relocated to Singapore to further develop our research.

My research focuses on improving the classification and monitoring of childhood leukaemia, as well as the development of new treatments for cancer by using the child’s own immune system. New treatments based on the power of the immune system offer an additional tool to improve cure rates. My vision would be for these new treatments to one day replace chemotherapy.

I am grateful for VIVA’s philanthropic funding to support research in childhood cancer. VIVA’s contribution has allowed our research programmes to proceed at a much faster rate and to initiate clinical trials of novel immunotherapies developed in our laboratory.

Our most urgent goal would be to develop new therapies that can improve cure rates for childhood leukaemia while decreasing the side effects associated with standard therapies. Our research aims to develop such therapies and administer them in the most appropriate way, so that there can be a bright future for children with cancer.


Our research aims to develop such therapies and administer them in the most appropriate way, so that there can be a bright future for children with cancer.



 Dr Elaine Coustan-Smith

Scientist , National University of Singapore

You could say that Dario and I are practically inseparable. We share the same home, the same laboratory, the same research interest and at times the same projects.

My work focuses on identifying the type of leukaemia the child has so that the correct treatment could be administered. I also monitor the effect of treatment on leukaemia cells, so that the chemotherapy can be given in the right amount. This is crucial as chemotherapy – toxic to both cancer and normal cells – can be injurious or even fatal if not delivered with precision, especially in children.

I embarked on my current research track when I was in the UK undergoing training in methods to classify and monitor leukaemia. My interest expanded when I moved to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where coincidentally I met Dario there.

Dario and I first met Mrs Jennifer Yeo and her family at St. Jude. We hit off quite well given our mutual passion and desire to improve the lives of young cancer patients. Next we heard, VIVA was founded and our links with Mrs Yeo strengthened. At first, this was through the annual St Jude-VIVA Forum in Singapore, where we conducted workshops for five consecutive years. We gradually realised that the time was ripe for us to introduce our methodologies and work more closely with colleagues in Asia.

Through encouragement and funding support from VIVA, Dario and I took our research to Singapore and we have not looked back since. VIVA has provided us invaluable opportunities to network and exchange knowledge with oncologists and technical staff from around the world. Seeing how everyone at VIVA works tirelessly to raise awareness and improve the lives of children with cancer inspires me to do more for children with cancer.