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.