100 Scientists of Malaysia: Malaysian researchers across the globe

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Published: 05 Aug 2020
By Sara Wei Ting Wong

"Science is not finished until it's communicated."

– Mark Walport, UK Chief Scientific Advisor (2013–2017)
Science communication is an untapped area in my home country of Malaysia, with many young Malaysians unaware of STEM research and what it entails. I co-founded a platform, 100 Scientists of Malaysia, to highlight Malaysian STEM researchers, showcase the diversity of STEM, and encourage the Malaysian public to engage with STEM. We have featured over 65 scientists since launching in August 2019.
Here are the profiles of some Malaysians doing amazing pharmacological research across the globe we've spoken to!

Dr Izzat Suffian

Lecturer and assistant professor at the International Islamic University Malaysia

Research area: Drug delivery and nanomedicine
Twitter: @izzat_fai

Dr Izzat Suffian completed his PhD in Pharmacology, Pharmaceutical and Analytical Science at King’s College London, UK, which involved engineering targeted hepatitis B virus core particles for cancer therapy. During his PhD, he was awarded the prestigious Wellcome Image Award, which recognise the creators of the most informative, striking and technically excellent images that communicate significant aspects of biomedical science in 2014 and 2016. He has since gained experience designing and developing novel nanoscale delivery systems including virus-like particles and liposomes. His current work involves pre-clinical translation of novel nanomaterials designed specifically for drug, siRNA, plasmid and radionuclide delivery for therapeutic or diagnostic applications. Recently, he reported the potential of Hepatitis B Virus core particles as nanocarriers in targeting HER2-positive metastatic abdominal cancer following intra-peritoneal administration in vivo. This project is ongoing.

Dr Suffian's Wellcome Image Award winning entry

Dr Kavita Subramaniam

Research fellow at St John’s Institute of Dermatology, King’s College London UK

Research area: Rare skin disease and gene therapy
Twitter: @kavita889

Skin is an organ that Dr Kavita Subramaniam often took for granted until she started working with patients suffering from recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa (RDEB). RDEB is a severe and incurable form of rare genetic skin disease that causes the skin to blister and wound with the slightest friction. It is due to mutations in the COL7A1 gene, which in turn results in an absence of dysfunctional type VII collagen (C7) protein that holds the dermis and epidermis layer of the skin intact. For RDEB patients, it is as if the glue that holds the skin together is no longer functional. There is currently no specific treatment. Patients are given supportive care to alleviate their pain and to manage their wounds. Some patients spend up to 8 hours a day changing the dressings for their wounds, which can be extremely painful. Dr Subramaniam’s project aims to use a patient-friendly gene-therapy delivery method to help restore C7 protein, which promotes wound healing.

Dr Lin Kooi Ong

Lecturer and lead of Translational Neurorecovery Laboratory at School of Pharmacy, Monash University Malaysia

Research area: Growth hormone and stroke recovery
Twitter: @DrLinOng

Dr Lin Kooi Ong’s research expertise is in translational stroke research, with particular focus on understanding the biological mechanisms of post-stroke cognitive impairment, and developing and testing novel interventions to enhance brain repair after stroke. He employs a multi-disciplinary approach including pre-clinical modelling, a battery of behavioural assessments, advanced imaging and microscopy techniques, and biochemical assays.
Over the last few years, his team has shown that stroke initiates delayed tissue loss in remote brain regions functionally connected to the primary infarction site, a phenomenon increasingly referred to as secondary neurodegeneration. Secondary neurodegeneration has been implicated as a potential modulator to a number of late phase functional disturbances, such as cognitive impairment.
Importantly, in collaboration with leading neuroendocrinologist Professor J├Ârgen Isgaard (University of Gothenburg), the team have shown that growth hormone treatment following experimental stroke improved cognitive performance and motor function. They additionally found an enhancement of key neurorestorative processes, such as increased cell proliferation, neurogenesis, increased synaptic plasticity, myelination and angiogenesis. These findings are encouraging, as rehabilitation after stroke is often a long and slow process, and therefore, therapeutic strategies that can enhance the recovery of brain function and improve functional outcomes are highly desirable.

Shanice Mah

PhD student at Prostate Cancer Research Group, South Australia Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), Adelaide

Research area: Prostate cancer
Twitter: @shanicemah

Prostate cancer is a hormone-dependent cancer, which relies on androgens and androgen-receptor signalling to promote growth and survival. Current standard treatment for men with advanced and metastatic prostate cancer aims to abolish androgen signalling. In spite of recent developments of novel anti-androgen therapies, metastatic prostate cancer remains incurable. This is why we need new or alternative therapeutic strategies to combat prostate cancer. Interestingly, unlike most tumours, which thrive on sugar to grow, prostate tumours prefer to consume fat in the early stages of the disease. Lipid oxidation is a major source of energy in the cells and helps prostate cancer cells to grow, survive and spread.
Ms Mah's PhD uncovers the role of a novel lipid oxidation enzyme that helps break down long-chain fatty acids, not only to provide energy to the cells for survival, but also as a protective mechanism to protect prostate cancer cells from ferroptosis (a form of iron-dependent and lipid-induced cell death). As such, this enzyme represents a promising novel therapeutic vulnerability that may be exploited for prostate cancer therapy.

Sara Wong

PhD student at School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham UK

Research area: Intranasal delivery of oxytocin
Twitter: @sarawongwt

Oxytocin, an endogenous neuropeptide, is highlighted for its therapeutic potential to restore socio-behavioural and cognitive deficits in CNS disorders. Unfortunately, oxytocin’s large molecular weight and hydrophilicity limits its penetration across the blood brain barrier (BBB). Intranasal delivery bypasses the BBB, but the extent of brain penetration by peptides remains controversial.
My PhD investigates the use of a novel cell-penetrating peptide termed glycosaminoglycan (GAG)-binding enhanced transduction (GET) to improve intranasal oxytocin brain penetration. GET enhances membrane transduction of small molecules in vitro and improves oxytocin delivery across nasal epithelial cells (RPMI 2650) (Wong et al., Pharmacology 2019; In Press). We are currently investigating GET’s ability to improve oxytocin’s brain penetration by using a fluorescent marker and confocal microscopy as well as its effect on phencylidine (PCP)-induced hyperactivity in vivo as an index of ‘antipsychotic-like’ activity. If successful, this may represent a promising avenue for further investigation as socio-behavioural deficits in disorders such as schizophrenia and Autism Spectrum Disorder remain untreatable.

100 Scientists of Malaysia

You can find 100 Scientists of Malaysia on Facebook (100Scientists), Instagram (100.scientistsofmalaysia) and Twitter (@_100SoM).  


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Published: 05 Aug 2020
By Sara Wei Ting Wong

About the author

Sarah Wong

Sara Wong graduated from King's College London in 2017 with a Bsc (Hons) in Biomedical Sciences. She is currently completing a PhD at the University of Nottingham that looks at optimising intranasal delivery of a novel oxytocin peptide conjugate for its therapeutic potential to modulate socio-behavioural deficits. She is funded by the University of Nottingham Vice Chancellor Scholarship and supervised by Professor Kevin Fone and Dr Madeleine King. She is also the co-founder of 100 Scientists of Malaysia, a science communication platform that highlights Malaysian scientists in STEM research. 

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