Forward leap

Attention to detail: One of the lab’s technicians looking at the samples in detail.

DNA Laboratories, which does DNA testing, was set up by a researcher who wanted to see the application of some of his work. 

If AMERICAN inventor Thomas Alva Edison’s dictum on research is “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”, then DNA Laboratories Sdn Bhd’s founder and chief technical officer Dr Wong Yong Wee elaboration on this would be: Every answer leads to another 10 questions.

The company, which provides DNA-based screening and diagnostic services, particularly for obstetrics and gynaecology (OB/GYN), was established in 2007 and is currently headquartered in the UKM-MTDC Technology Centre, Bangi, Selangor.

Some of the tests they do include prenatal tests during pregnancy to screen for specific inherited disorders in unborn babies.

There are many different types of prenatal tests available. These range from non-invasive ultrasounds and blood tests called “screening tests”, to more invasive procedures called “diagnostic tests” that obtain cells from inside a woman’s uterus for an examination of the baby’s chromosomes.

The company is the Star Business Awards 2014 Silver award winner for the Best in Marketing category.

“In this line, understanding the principles (behind something) is vital, not just applying the protocols,” Wong tells Metrobiz.

Wong’s view on research led to him thinking that there could be no end to scientific inquiry, and that one could spend one’s whole life in the labs without ever seeing one’s findings being applied in society.

This thought eventually made Wong take the leap of faith into entrepreneurship. He managed to get three investors’ backing and then began looking for business models that could utilise science to serve society.

Some wild ideas, including building new medical devices, came to mind. But knowing that this would be capital intensive and that it would take a long time to recoup the investments, Wong and his partners decided that setting up shop as a laboratory service provider was the more feasible route to take.

“While doing post-doctoral research at a molecular neurobiology centre in Germany, we came across more accurate ways to look for diseases using DNA testing,” Wong says.

This procedure would naturally cost more than the usual blood sample test, but Wong says a DNA test is definitely more sensitive and specific.

Illustrating this point with the example of checking whether a virus was present in a blood sample, he says lab technicians would look for antibodies and antigen which might exist, meaning that the antibody ‘marked’ the existence of the virus.

“But a virus may take time to replicate or the antibody may need time to develop, hence if one were to simply draw from a blood sample, the virus may not have multiplied enough to appear in a blood test,” he says.

Simply put, as astronomer Carl Sagan had it: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Wong elaborates that if testing were to be done via nuclei acid testing, it would have a higher chance of detecting the virus using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) equipment which is able to amplify and detect the targeted DNA from the sample tested.

PCR is a technology in molecular biology used to amplify a single copy or a few copies of a piece of DNA to generate thousands to millions of copies.

“We can then detect the DNA that is specific to the virus,” he says.

To date, the company has invested over RM3.5mil in acquiring new technologies and expanding its staff to 45, including marketing personnel and laboratory executives with background in life sciences.

Wong says there is potential here in Malaysia for such tests as local healthcare companies usually send their specimens overseas for molecular diagnostic testing.

“The tests (then) become costly, and the test results take a longer time to come back. We can do the same molecular testing and keep it affordable for all Malaysians,” he concludes.

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Metro , Central Region , DNA Lab , Dr Wong Yong Wee


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