Lupus-struck gallerist starts research fund

Helmi Yusof
Published Thu, Oct 23, 2014 · 09:50 PM
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SHE has long been a champion of Singapore artists. Now Singapore artists are coming together to raise awareness for a disease which, tragically, she suffers from.

Helina Chan is the founder and managing director of iPreciation gallery, which represents top local artists such as Lee Wen, Milenko Prvacki, Jeremy Sharma and Boo Sze Yang.

In 2008, Ms Chan discovered through blood tests that she suffered from Sjogren's syndrome, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's white blood cells attack the exocrine glands which produce saliva and tears. In 2011, Sjoegren's syndrome developed into lupus to attack her face, kidney and bone marrow. Her symptoms include lesions on the skin, low-grade fever and constant fatigue. Determined to help herself and others, she has started a charity platform called the Reverie Rheumatology Research Fund to help raise money for research on rheumatological diseases, of which lupus is one.

Top artists including Lee, Prvacki, Boo, Sharma, Tay Bak Chiang, Wee Kheng Li, Michael Lee, Donna Ong, Hilmi Johandi and Luke Heng have all come onboard to help Ms Chan raise funds. Each is contributing one or more artwork for an inaugural benefit dinner on Nov 5 at the Four Seasons Hotel. A few artworks will be auctioned off that night, while one artwork will be given to each table. Donation options are priced at S$18,000 or S$28,000, while donations of S$1,000 are also accepted for individual seats.

The artworks include a gorgeous abstract by Prvacki, an editioned photograph of Lee Wen's Yellow Man and three installations by Ong.

According to Julian Thumboo, head and senior consultant of the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology, Singapore General Hospital, more than 600,000 people in Singapore suffer from rheumatological diseases which include systemic sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. "Rheumatological diseases are common but often go unrecognised in Singapore," Prof Thumboo says. "Unfortunately, treatment is limited and, in some cases, there are none - symptoms can only be managed. These diseases can affect one's quality of life and life expectancy, if left untreated."

Despite the scientific breakthroughs made in the past decades, little is known about the exact causes of rheumatological diseases. It is known to occur more often in women than men, and is twice as common in Asian women as compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

Ms Chan has been on daily medication since 2012 and has to go for regular check-ups to check her kidney function and white blood cell count. But the 51-year-old won't let the disease beat her. She continues to run iPreciation gallery which this year took Lee Wen's works to the prestigious Art Basel Hong Kong and sold several of them on the first day alone.

She says: "From my personal experience as a lupus patient, I understand the pain and struggles that individuals suffering from rheumatological diseases go through. I also realised that this field has not been sufficiently researched, particularly in Asian patients. There hasn't been a new drug or medication available in the market for the past 20 years."

Using art to champion a medical cause, she hopes to raise S$3 million for the first two years of the Reverie Rheumatology Research Fund, and S$12.5 million after that. She hopes the fund will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the government to help sustain the long-term research effort.

The inaugural benefit dinner for the Reverie Rheumatology Research Fund takes place at the Four Seasons Hotel on Nov 5. If you'd like to help by purchasing a seat or table, please contact iPreciation gallery on 6339-0678 or e-mail

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