February 5, 2020, by Lee Mei Kee
2015 highlights for Biomedical sciences
Here some events that occurred in 2015 that made the year such a memorable one…
Student spotlight : summer work experiences
In addition to learning in the classroom, we encourage our students to take part in internships and placements during the summer break in order to gain hands on experience of working in the industry before they graduate.
Tan Jee Han is a year three biomedical science student who jumped at the opportunity to experience international medical research with a placement in our biomedical science lab at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.
“The summer placement I undertook involved studying the effects of pharmacological agents on the smooth muscle cells of rat aorta. I learnt to use tissue organ baths to incubate the rat aorta tissue with the selected drug such as isoprenaline, a drug which dilates the rat aorta, and to then construct concentration-response curves to analyse and interpret the results obtained.
Throughout my summer placement, I learnt a lot of new things as well as experiencing the ‘real-time’ environment of working in the lab. I’ve learned to manage my time well and to work independently, which will be valuable traits to have during my final year project ad beyond. It was a truly eye-opening experience. I’ve also learnt the difference between the working environments of the usual lab practical sessions at undergraduate level and scientific research environment at higher level, ie postgraduate /funded scientific research at clinical level. I can say that throughout the process there were definitely ups and downs – challenges of not obtaining the expected results, unresponsiveness of the rat aorta tissue and so on – but I’ve come to see that research work takes time, perserverance and consistency.
The experience has benefitted me in many ways, especially in the pursuit of my scientific aspirations. I would highly recommend my fellow younger peers of year one and year two to undertake summer research placements of any sorts, be it by the institution or by external bodies to learn and gain valuable experience.”
Yang Su Lim undertook a summer internship at the Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation Malaysia during her summer break.
“ I had my internship at the Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) and was placed under the community outreach, which aims to improve public cancer literacy through community-based cancer awareness approaches.
I was involved in the development of programmes and activities by researching and analyzing the right and appropriate approach to different target audiences. I also analysed the effectiveness of their youth programme aimed at improving our youth’s knowledge on cancer. I was exposed to the real-life working environment of a research laboratory and was introduced to the lab techniques and procedures of different cancer teams in terms of collection of blood samples, DNA extraction, PCR and gene analysis.
This experience was truly an eye-opener for me as I have always wanted to understand what my future career may look like and how I would be able to apply the knowledge learned from my degree course.”
Research: Leading the fight against breast cancer
Breast cancer remains one of the most common types of cancer in Malaysia despite various research efforts in finding anti-cancer therapies. Apart from primary treatment, cancer relapse, metastasis and resistance to drug treatment are identified as the main targets in breast cancer research.
Growing evidence demonstrates that tumour growth is initiated and maintained by cancer stem cells (CSCs). It is perceived that this minority group of cells is responsible for the resistance and recurrence of cancer diseases.
Dr Ho Wan Yong from the Department of Biomedical Sciences was awarded the MAKNA Cancer Research Award of RM30,000 to look at the characterization of tumour spheroidal cultures as a model for studying breast cancer stem cells. This study generally aims to develop a 3-dimensional (3-D) spheroid culture as a platform for breast cancer stem cell studies. This grant is awarded annually to research proposals selected by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia, with the aim of motivating aspiring young researchers involved in cancer research.
It was shown that cancer cells growing in a 3-D structure exhibit characteristics that resemble the self-renewing CSCs. Dr Ho’s previous studies also showed that the 3-D spheroids of breast cancer showed higher resistance towards drug treatment. Hence, it is anticipated that these spheroids could serve as an alternative model for cancer stem cell studies. Therefore, characterization of the spheroids is essential to provide researches with a deeper understanding of the properties of this culture system. Results from this study serve to evaluate the potential of using these 3-D models in breast cancer stem cell research. Nevertheless, it is hoped that this study can contribute to a better solution for cancer drug screening that could potentially accelerate and enhance the development of anticancer research.
Climb for Life 2: supporting Penan preschool education
Climb for Life 2 is a fund raising project initiated by Dr Ting Kang Nee (Head, Biomedical Sciences, UNMC) and co-organised by Dr Yvonne Mbaki (School of Life Sciences, UK campus), with the aim of raising awareness of the plights faced by the Penan community.
The Penan Children’s plight
The Penan community is an Indigenous group of people who live in the deep forests of Sarawak, Borneo. There are around 16,000 Penans living in Malaysia. The young Penans leave home at the age of six to live and study in a boarding schoo; and they do not know the national language Bahasa Malaysia or English. Many of these children are not able to keep up, leading to punishment at school. Before long, these students are isolated in an education system that is not catered towards students from remote areas in the Penan community. Young Penan children entering the national educational system also face social, cultural, economic and other multiple issues. Lifting the society from extreme poverty requires starting them young. Unfortunately, almost all of Penan children are primary school drop-outs.
As a team of nine from Malaysia and the UK, excited and reservedly anxious, we commenced our 11 day trek into the Langtang National Park on 13 April 2015. We commenced our trek as planned, but experienced adverse weather conditions and exhaustion from the long daily treks, trekking more than 120km in total at high altitude. The risk of acute mountain sickness is real and is a concern for all climbers. As altitude increases the concentration of oxygen per breath drops dramatically. For example, at 5000m the concentration of oxygen drops by half compared to at sea level. High altitude and lower air pressure causes fluid to leak from the capillaries which can cause fluid build-up in both the lungs and the brain. These are the serious forms of mountain sickness and may result in fatality. Our team members experienced food poisoning, insomnia, various aches and pains accompanied with nausea. Most nights were cold and the tea houses we stayed in were basic in their provision of amenities including minimal to no hot water and basic food options. The journey to Yala Peak (5520m) on summit day was the most challenging for all of us. It snowed the whole night and we had to navigate through three-four feet of melting snow. The pressure was intensified by the fact that we only had an eight of nine hour window of blue skies and sunshine to complete our summit before the clouds descended in with hale. At high altitude we had to be ready for extreme conditions and the weather is unpredictable.
Our experience in the Himalayas was awesome, exhilarating and exhausting. Besides the beautiful views, the best thing about Nepal is its people. Our expedition ended with an unforeseen event, where we had to survive three days in Nepal after the devastating earthquake on 25 April 2015.
Water4Power community project
Water4Power is a joint project by Engineers Without Borders Malaysia (EWB-M) and The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) with other notable NGOs. Water4Power’s primary goal is to provide sustainable electricity through the installation of a mini hydro generator to a village called Kampung Sapit, located at a higher level in interior parts of Sarawak.
Sapit houses a community of 200 Bidayuhs whom rely on diesel-run generators for power as they remain disconnected from the national power grid. Secondary objectives include improving waste management (open burning and littering is rife), providing basic medical care in collaboration with doctors and healthcare personnel from Rural Expeditions Aiding Community Health (REACH) and to inspire primary school students through supplementary educational activities.
The project was made possible by the Cascade Grant awarded by The University of Nottingham UK under the Impact Campaign as well as funding from EWB-M, sponsorships and public donations. Dr Ting Kang Nee, our Head of Department, was project advisor which led to the participation of a handful of biomedical science student volunteers.
Equipped with the project materials, food supplies and enthusiasm to make a change, the project team arrived in Kampung Sapit on the evening of 22 July 2015 after a 2km hike upwards towards the village from the foot of the hill. Once we arrived, we were greeted by the local villagers who offered their assistance in terms of logistics and manpower. The project’s engineering operations was led by EWB-M and comprises four main aspects; the dam, piping, generator, and wiring. The dam was constructed a month before our arrival, our mission was to set up the generator and connect the wiring that would enable electrical power to be transmitted to the village. Bamboos were cut and erected and used as the poles for the wires to sit on. We had roughly 250 bamboo poles installed from the generator site up to the village so it was a good thing we had help from the local community! One of our major struggles was the unreliability of the materials delivery from our on-site contractor, which adversely affected our itinerary meant we had to reshuffle and make adjustments. Despite that, the project was successful and the system will be running in no time.
We also held a ‘gotong-royong’ activity to promote cleaner surroundings and hygiene practices. Our team went on approximately 60 house visits, talking about recycling and composting. In addition, our education team adjourned to Sekolah Kebangsaan Kambug boarding school to conduct educational activities with the primary school children. They learned proper dental care, got hands-on with DNA extraction from bananas and had English lessons. Healthcare screening was the highlight of the final day. This is important because villagers have poor accessibility to medical support. They came in numbers to see the doctors and dentist from REACH and to be prescribed medicine. The UNMC team facilitated with registration, diagnostic tests and the dispensing of medicine. We had a total of 97 patients and 26 teeth extracted!
Water4Power has made a positive change to both the lives of the recipients and the volunteers. It is definitely one to remember.