Bridging the Healthcare Gap in Thailand and Beyond with the Belt and Road Initiative
"I have a dream that everyone should have the ability to access medical care equally," says Oraphan Wanacharoen (Ice), BGI Genomics Field Application Scientist. "It's very challenging to achieve such a goal in Thailand. With the advanced technology of the company and our sustained development, I believe that we will be able to realize this dream."
Known as Ice to her friends and family, she has been passionate about this dream since her days at Chulalongkorn University and Chulabhorn Graduate Institute, where she graduated with a BSc in Genetics and an MSc in Carcinogenesis, Environmental Toxicology, respectively.
Ice continues to take steps towards her dream through her work as a Field Application Scientist, which involves technology transfer of BGI Genomics products to facilitate genetic technology applications such as non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT). She cheerfully mentioned that she would travel to Hanoi, Vietnam, the next day following this interview.
Her busy business travel plan is a reminder of how Ice knits together science and international collaboration to realize better health outcomes in Thailand and across ASEAN, aligning with the ideals of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In July 2023, BGI Genomics and other renowned partners, such as Thailand's largest tertiary and quaternary-care medical center Siriraj Hospital, signed an MOU on the improvement of thalassemia prevention and treatment programs, joint development of cellular and gene therapy collaboration. Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder caused by insufficient or nonfunctional hemoglobin that affects over 345 million people worldwide.
According to Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health, 30-40% or approximately 18-24 million of the Thai population carries the thalassemia gene, with over 600,000 moderately severe thalassemia patients requiring regular treatment, including blood transfusion and chelation therapy to remove excess iron from the blood. These treatments represent a significant financial burden for families and society. The Ministry also recommends couples undergo screening before getting married or planning to have children to find out if they are carriers of the thalassemia gene.
High-throughput sequencing facilitates a better understanding of patients' genotype and disease risk, providing more accurate guidance for thalassemia prevention, screening and treatment. Ice explains: "With a degree in genetics, I strongly recommend screening as a preventive tool as we have a high prevalence of thalassemia, sickle-cell anemia, and related hemoglobinopathies. There is hardly anyone in Thailand who does not know about thalassemia."
Through her work, Ice serves as a conduit for knowledge, conducting training and answering questions from partners. She also has the same message for these partners: "Accurate results of this screening test can impact patients' treatment plans. And these patients are always on my mind."
Since joining BGI Genomics in 2022, Ice has further developed her skills in applications involving real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), fluorescence in situ hybridization, and clinical data analysis platform based on Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS).
Apart from on-the-job training, Ice recently spent two weeks training at BGI Genomics headquarters this July. This general and job-specific training is an opportunity to learn about the company's latest strategies to realize its vision of "Omics for All". She notes: "I learnt from colleagues worldwide about the many routes to equitable access to healthcare and hope to work together with them in the future.
When asked about Thai-Sino relations, Ice notes that Thailand actively participates in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) initiatives as an ASEAN member. These initiatives bring greater trade opportunities, employment and knowledge sharing, especially in healthcare, to create better health outcomes for all.
Equality and exploration are two values that resonate with Ice; she has aligned her studies and career accordingly. Healthcare equality is another step closer through BRI as like-minded nations and individuals have another platform to realize their full potential and dreams.
About BGI Genomics
BGI Genomics, headquartered in Shenzhen, China, is the world's leading integrated solutions provider of precision medicine. In July 2017, as a subsidiary of BGI Group, BGI Genomics (300676.SZ) was officially listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.