Cash boost for cancer researchers

Photos By StoryPhotos Grace Chen

Cancer fighters: Recipients of the Makna Cancer Research Award (from left) Dr Lim, Norlaily and Kalaivani.

The National Cancer Council of Malaysia (Makna) has awarded RM30,000 each to three scientists under its Cancer Research Award.

Dr Lim Yat Yuen, 30, from Universiti Malaya will use the award to continue his research on triple negative breast cancer.

It is the most aggressive of all cancer subtypes and the chances of survival are slim due to its rapid spread.

Dr Lim’s study will focus on cells at the edge of a tumour. He believes these cells are programmed differently compared to the ones located in the tumour centre. This may explain why they can invade healthy tissue and cause the cancer to spread.

“Hopefully, we may be able to find previously unreported genetic codes within these cells.

“Once we have an understanding of how they can gain such invasive properties, we will use the information for diagnosis and treatment,” he said.

Norlaily Mohd Ali, 29, a PhD student from Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar) is the second recipient. Her award is for studies on the role played by adult stem cells in bone cancer. In a healthy state, the function of adult stem cells is to repair damaged cells in other parts of the body. But in cancer patients, these very same ‘healing’ cells turn against the body by secreting deadly agents that help the disease to progress.

The funds from this grant will go towards isolating genetic codes found in rogue as well as healer cells.

Norlaily hopes understanding the triggers that command these cells to either heal or destroy will pave the way for future scientists to stop the further advancement of bone cancer.

The third recipient is Kalaivani Muniandy, 27, a postgraduate student from Institute of Research in Molecular Medicine. The award is in recognition of her work in growing a live tumour in her lab.

This model mimics the actual growth of a cancerous tumour within a human cervix.

Kalaivani’s work will allow scientists to observe the invasion pattern of the human papillomavirus in cervical cells without cutting someone open. It will also take much of the guesswork out of the diagnosing process.

Using a cell assembly system, Kalaivani said the grant will enable her to study the devastation caused by the virus. She also plans to test her model on different combinations of HPV strains.

The advantage of a live 3D model lies in the high level of oxygenated cells found in the tumour’s core. Oxygenated cells allow for easier checking when it comes to testing drug efficiency.

Kalaivani obtained her cell lines from American Type Culture Collection. She has infected them with HPV 16 and 18, both high-risk strains linked to the development of cervical cancer.

Dr Kong Sin Guan, an assistant professor from Utar, also received RM20,000 for his work on reducing the side effects in breast cancer treatment.

The recipients were selected from a pool of 27 applicants by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia.

The selection panel was headed by Universiti Putra Malaysia Biotechnology and Biomolecular Science Faculty dean Prof Datin Paduka Dr Khatijah Mohd Yussoff.

Since 2001, Makna has allocated RM1.3mil for cancer research and 42 researchers have benefited from the fund.

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