M'sian scientist wins Dr Josef Steiner prize for cancer research

  • Nation
  • Thursday, 17 Oct 2019

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian scientist, Prof Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, has been awarded the Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 for her work on cancer genome interpretation.

The research, carried out in collaboration with Dr Paul Calleja and Dr Ignacio Medina, led to successful application that enabled the acceleration of holistic cancer genome interpretation towards clinical practice.

The Dr Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019, originally also known as the “Nobel Prize for Cancer Research”, goes to Dr Serena, who is the principal investigator in the research.

Dr Serena, who is currently based in the United Kingdom, is part of University of Cambridge's Medical Genetics Department and Medical Research Council Cancer Unit.

According to the university, her research work allows for mutations in cancer tumours to be analysed using new bio-informatic methods, which in turn enabled new approaches to targeted therapies.

The prize will be awarded on Friday (Oct 18) at the university in a ceremony, during which Dr Serena will present her work under the title “Accelerating holistic cancer genome interpretation towards the clinic”.

According to Dr Serena, the rate-limiting step in cancer genomics today was not the ability to perform sequencing, but the expertise in performing downstream analysis and making a clinically useful interpretation.

This remained the hurdle between genomic technology and the clinical context.

"Our research efforts began with showing that the totality of mutagenesis from large cohorts of whole genome sequenced tumours could reveal mutational signatures, imprints left by mutagenic DNA damage and repair processes that have occurred through cancer development.

"Subsequently, our team focused on experimentally validating these analytical concepts in cellular model systems," she said in a statement on the university's website.

"We examined mechanisms of mutagenesis related to DNA repair defects and of environmental mutagens.

"The powerful combination of computational analytics and experimental insights helped to drive the development of clinical computational tools to interpret whole cancer genomes more effectively," she added.

Dr Serena said the Josef Steiner Award would help the university enhance translation of its expertise and develop novel, clinically meaningful algorithmic tools.

"We seek to consolidate our current knowledge into infrastructure that is appropriate for the future. We are building a more automated foundation that can be referred back to at any point, and that will scale with more data coming.

"It needs to be more user-friendly for the next generation of clinicians and scientists to explore and be suitable for advanced data analytics," she said.

Dr Serena's achievement hsa caught some attention back home. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail congratulated Serena for her achievement on her Facebook page.

"Serena is the daughter of the renown medical icon, the late Datuk Dr Nik Zainal Abidin Nik Abdul Rahman, who was at the forefront of Malaysia's first cardiology department," she said.

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