Malaysian awarded medical physics scholarship

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian PhD student, Umi Nabilah Ismail, 26, 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 percent of the Malaysian population being carriers. However, to date, there is no cure for the disease.

“The only curative option available currently is bone marrow transplant, but the success rate is quite low. So, majority of patients are managed only by undergoing life-long blood transfusion,” she told Bernama in an interview.

The disease can cause severe anaemia to patients. While there are numerous novel therapies developed to treat the disease, the serum biomarker used to evaluate the efficacy of treatments are not really reliable, she said.

“It will be quite impossible to know whether or not the treatment works without biomarkers. The research to find biomarkers that are able to reflect treatment efficacy is going on all over the world. I really hope my research will contribute to this,” she said.

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

The second-year PhD student in the Department of Biomedical Imaging, Faculty of Medicine, University Malaya (UM) said the conclusion of the study will enable the development of new biomarkers that can help improve patient treatment.

For her work, the Winter Institute of Medical Physics has awarded her $1000, 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.

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

She applied, without expecting to win.

“I was actually quite surprised (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 have 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 through,” she said.

The annual Winter Institute of Medical Physics programme is a US professional meeting for researchers and professionals in the medical physics field. One of the core goals of the meeting is to support early career medical physicists with a diverse array of scholarships and mentoring opportunities. – Bernama