Malaysian earns medical physics scholarship

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian PhD student Umi Nabilah Ismail (pic) has been awarded the prestigious Early Career Medical Physicists Scholarship Award for her research in developing a biomarker that can assess treatment efficacy for beta thalassemia.

Beta thalassemia is one of the most common genetic disorders in Malaysia, with an estimated 4.5% of the Malaysian population being carriers. To date, there is no known cure for the disease.

“The only curative option available currently is a bone marrow transplant but the success rate is quite low, so most patients undergo life-long blood transfusions, ” she said.

The disease can cause patients severe anaemia.

While numerous novel therapies had been developed to treat the disease, the serum biomarker used to evaluate the efficacy of treatments was not really reliable, said Umi Nabilah.

“It will be quite impossible to know whether or not the treatment works without biomarkers.

“Research to find biomarkers that can reflect treatment efficacy is going on all over the world.

“I really hope my research will contribute to this, ” she said.

Umi Nabilah, 26, is investigating the feasibility of quantifying fats in bone marrow using magnetic resonance imaging as a biomarker for beta thalassemia.

The second-year PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, said the conclusion of the study would enable the development of new biomarkers to improve patient treatment.

For her work, the Winter Institute of Medical Physics has awarded her US$1,000 (RM4,096) in addition to the scholarship.

The scholarship covers a mentorship programme that will provide coaching and mentoring opportunities with international experts from the medical physics field.

Umi Nabilah thanked her supervisor Prof Ng Kwan Hoong for telling her about the scholarship and encouraging her to apply for it.

“I was quite surprised (that I won) because the other applicants were from very (renowned) international institutes all over the world, ” she said.

Umi Nabilah was one of the 18 early career medical physicists from 15 countries shortlisted to present their projects in the final round of the competition at the virtual 2021 Winter Institute of Medical Physics meeting.

“The competition was divided into two rounds. Applicants had to send in their CV and research proposal in the first round, from which 18 were selected.

“In the final round, we had to present our research in a seminar programme.

“I’ll say there is no easy path to success. Everything is difficult but there must be one path that, although difficult, you’d want to walk on, ” she said. — Bernama

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