Feature

Feeling good in their own skin

PHOTO: LESTER KOK

It takes guts – and thick skin – to do what these two NTU graduates did.

They started a company, Denova Sciences, which deals in a very unique product – human skin grown in the lab. Their business has already proven to be a boon for companies selling beauty products and cosmetics, and could save thousands of animals from harsh chemical tests.

NTU graduates Dr Kelvin Chong and Tan Ming Jie are two young scientists who have mastered the art of growing human skin from research-grade human cells that are put into their secret concoction of nutrients. The skin grown is no pale replica – it is “three-dimensional skin” complete with layers.

The pieces of skin, each the size of a dollar coin, can be used to test for allergic reactions or whether skin medicines work.

Kelvin, 33, graduated this year after completing his PhD at the School of Biological Sciences, while Ming Jie got his Master’s after studying part-time at the same school.

They first met while working under Assoc Prof Andrew Tan ten years ago. The two friends were then part of the NTU team that developed a human skin model to test the effects of different drugs and chemicals.

In May last year, the duo took the unconventional path of spinning off a start-up company licensing this unique skin-growing biotechnology, together with their business development partner, Daniel Tan.

“We are one of only a few companies in the world, if not the only one, that can provide a high-quality testing platform using human skin, complete with testing services,” explains Ming Jie, 32.

“Since the launch of our company, we’ve managed to get multinational companies, including a major skincare and cosmetics house, as well as local companies and research institutes as our clients, giving us a good head start in Asia.”

Co-founder Kelvin, who leads the research and development in the company, reveals that different types of skin are being grown, from ageing and wrinkled skin to dry skin.

“How we make our skin is a secret, like how Coke keeps its recipe under wraps,” says the 33-year-old.

“Unlike other skin models on the market, ours does not contain animal serum, which could skew research results. Our skin is much more reliable and no animals are harmed in the process of making it.”

The 1-min face-off
We ask the founders of Denova Sciences...

What’s your best tip for youthful skin?
“A balanced diet and quality sleep. Also, don’t smoke, and cut back on alcohol. Protect your skin from the sun by using sunscreen.”

What speeds up ageing of the skin?
“Smoking and sunbathing without the use of sunscreen.”

Tell us your top skincare suggestions based on the science you have done.
“You need to know your skin well. For example, if it is dry, you should keep it moisturised. Not all skincare products suit your skin. If you have any skin problems, consult a skin specialist or dermatologist. Sometimes, clogged pores prevent skincare products from penetrating the skin. It is very important to have a proper diet and a good skincare regime that includes protecting yourself from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. Get enough sleep and regular exercise. Good skin requires a lot of discipline!”