Focus on R&D

RESEARCH and development is an area that is given special emphasis in universities and UKM is no different. Its vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin has restructured the organisation to fit in with the university’s status as a research institution.

“We bring people together in multi disciplinary teams in eight niche areas, so that our research is focused,” she explains.

The areas include challenges for nation building, regionable sustainable development, renewable energy, health technology and medicine, climate change, nanotechnology and advanced materials, biodiversity for biotechnology development, and content-based informatics. They form the research clusters which in turn bring together several research groups.

Prof Sharifah Hapsah says example of research that varsity staff have been involved in, include improved techniques when performing heart bypass surgeries, initiating new varieties in roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.), and also research in nuclear power.

UKM cardiothoracic surgeon and senior lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Ramzisham Abdul Rahman’s current area of interest has been on conduit harvest — an innovative technology where a vein is taken from the patient’s leg for a coronary bypass operation.

“The harvesting technique has improved so much and is minimally invasive compared to before when the only choice we had was open surgery,” he says.

Dr Ramzisham who recently performed the heart bypass surgery at the UKM Medical Centre (UKMMC), using the technology, says he made a small incision in the patient to extract the vein using the Vascular-Micro-Milling-System (VMMS-100).

“It works like a boring instrument where we track the vein down to the bottom of the leg and then cut it without having to cut up the entire stretch of the leg.” he explains.

With this new technology, he says the operation and the recovery process for the patient is faster.

More operations can be performed and this will reduce the long waiting list for patients awaiting heart bypass surgeries. UKMMC started peforming heart and lung surgery from 1998, and established a Heart and Lung Centre in 2006, led by Assoc Prof Dr Mohd Zamrin Dimon.

In 1999, Prof Dr Mohamad Osman who is from the School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences in the Faculty of Science and Technology, initiated the research project on roselle, a type of plant, at UKM.

The varsity also launched the three new roselle varieties — UKMR-1, UKMR-2 and UKMR-3 — in April last year.

“Roselle as a health drink has a high content of vitamin C and anthocyanins (antioxidants).”

Prof Mohamad explains that certain types of roselle contain high levels of an organic acid called hydroxycitric acid (HCA) which is the main ingredient used for body slimming.

On commercialisation, Prof Mohamad says he was selected as one of 10 recipients under the UKM-Malaysian Technology Development Corporation (MTDC), to commercialise roselle products through a start-up company.

Deputy vice-chancellor (Student and Alumni Affairs) Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Abd Razak’s interests is in research related to the spine, particularly scoliosis.

“This means the spine is bent and it is common among adolescent girls,” he explains. It could result in a patient having a cosmetic disfigurement and in severe cases could lead to respiratory problems.

Prof Mohamad who is a senior consultant of spinal surgery at UKMMC says his team has invented a new surgical approach known as the HUKM Spinal Instrumentation System to treat scoliosis among adolescents.

“We have used this system on more than 100 cases,” he says, adding that the spine centre at UKMMC is the first in the country.

Amongst Faculty of Education dean Prof Datin Dr Siti Rahayah Ariffin’s many research products, is one called the Malaysian Generic Skills Inventory (My GSI) which has been adopted by the university.

“It has been introduced to all first year students from 2008 and tests their soft skills in 13 areas including critical thinking, ethics and problem- solving,” she explains.

Each lecturer (mentor) will have five students and they meet five times each semester to work on these skills.

“This means that in addition to the degree that the students receive upon graduation, they would receive the diploma supplement which is a cumulative grade point average of their soft skills,” says Prof Siti Rahayah.

The first batch will receive their diploma supplement when they graduate in 2011.

Prof Siti Rahayah and her team won a gold medal for the research product in a competition, adding that the Higher Education Ministry has expressed an interest in adopting it for other public universities.

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