Im­pact­ful re­search

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - COURSE FOCUS -

WHILE academics and re­searchers have the ex­cit­ing op­por­tu­nity to delve deep into their re­search, too of­ten, re­search top­ics be­come too niche and are ren­dered of lit­tle prac­ti­cal use.

Ac­cord­ing to As­soc Prof Dr Uma Devi Palanisamy from the Jef­frey Cheah School of Health Sci­ences and Medicine at Monash Univer­sity Malaysia, fun­da­men­tal and ap­plied sci­ence re­search need not be mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive.

In fact, sci­en­tists should strive to find a bal­ance be­tween pur­su­ing their cho­sen field of fun­da­men­tal re­search and en­sur­ing that re­search serves a greater good.

As­soc Prof Uma joined Monash Univer­sity Malaysia in 2008, where her re­search in­volved di­a­betes and obe­sity top­ics.

She says, “My re­search in­volves deal­ing with bioac­tive com­pounds from nat­u­ral sources – mostly plants – that can be ap­plied as anti- obe­sity and anti- di­a­betic agents. My team has since iden­ti­fied a cou­ple of com­pounds that have shown to con­tain good abil­ity to counter the meta­bolic syn­drome.”

Meta­bolic syn­drome is a clus­ter of symp­toms that de­fine the on­set of di­a­betes, such as hy­per­gly­caemia, in­sulin­re­sis­tance, hy­per­ten­sion and hy­per­c­holes­terol.

As­soc Prof Uma and her team of re­searchers dis­cov­ered that the rind of a par­tic­u­lar lo­cal fruit, once pu­ri­fied, showed great prom­ise at re­duc­ing meta­bolic syn­drome.

“We’re the first in the world to pu­rify the com­pound at a larger scale and, af­ter do­ing an­i­mal tri­als, the com­pound has shown to be ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing obe­sity and hy­per­ten­sion, among oth­ers.”

Al­though sev­eral neu­traceu­ti­cals and cor­po­ra­tions have ex­pressed in­ter­est in pur­chas­ing the pu­ri­fied com­pound, Prof Uma says she is set on putting the com­pound through clin­i­cal tri­als be­fore com­mer­cial­is­ing it.

“In Malaysia, there is no need to do clin­i­cal tri­als for neu­traceu­ti­cals or sup­ple­ments de­rived from nat­u­ral sources. But as re­searchers, we want to do clin­i­cal tri­als and get more valid re­sponses so we can know the mech­a­nisms of its ac­tions,” she says.

De­spite her full sched­ule, As­soc Prof Uma also su­per­vises PhD stu­dents. She be­lieves that her back­ground of ap­plied sci­ence and be­lief in do­ing re­search with an end- goal of giv­ing back has in­flu­enced most of her post­grad­u­ate stu­dents.

“I think it’s im­por­tant that I ask, ‘ So what? Who will ben­e­fit from this?’ in my work. It’s im­por­tant that as re­searchers, we use our re­search to give back to so­ci­ety, or at least to be picked up by some­body else for fur­ther study,” says As­soc Prof Uma.

Apart from her aca­demic pur­suits, As­soc Prof Uma has a pas­sion for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, and tries to in­cul­cate this in her stu­dents as well.

For more in­for­ma­tion on pro­grammes of­fered at the Jef­frey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sci­ences, Monash Univer­sity Malaysia, visit www. med. monash. edu. my.

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