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Malaysian Scientist Awarded RM11.3 Million for Innovative Breast Cancer Research


Semenyih, Selangor, 31 January 2024 – Dr Ho Weang Kee, Associate Professor of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Nottingham Malaysia, has been awarded a prestigious Wellcome Trust Career Development Award (WTCDA) totalling GBP £1.92 million (RM11.3 million) to develop novel breast cancer risk stratification and communication methods in diverse Asian populations.  

The highly competitive award is an initiative of the Wellcome Foundation, a UK-based charitable foundation established in 1936, that funds research to support new discoveries in science across various disciplines that aim to improve human life, health and wellbeing. The award acknowledges and offers funding to mid-career researchers with the potential to emerge as international research leaders. 

Co-hosted by University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM) and Cancer Research Malaysia, the 8-year research programme is dedicated towards enhancing the accuracy of breast cancer risk prediction models tailored to the unique genetic and environmental factors prevalent in diverse Asian populations and to build innovative risk communication methods.  

In the lead up to International Day of Women and Girls in Science (11 February 2024), the award is also a significant reminder and celebration of the scientific contributions by and for women, as well as showcasing how equitable scientific development benefits all members of the society. 

Addressing research gaps in risk assessment 

Empowering women to make informed decisions about screening and prevention by informing them about their future risk of developing breast cancer can help reduce inefficiency, unnecessary cost, and potential harm caused by over-diagnosis. However, development of such risk assessment tools requires large-scale research data, which is not available in many Asian ethnic subgroups.  

Dr Ho plans to leverage the award to refine breast cancer risk assessment in Asian population through developing innovative methods to harness valuable insights from existing, less powerful datasets in underrepresented populations.  

“The aim of this 8-year research programme is two-fold: to develop and apply advanced statistical techniques to harness the value of existing, less powerful datasets to build disease risk prediction models for under-represented populations, and to extract disease risk-associated medical imaging features to enable visualisation of risk. The plan is to start with breast cancer and expand to other non-communicable diseases in the future” said Dr Ho

“This research programme is rooted in the foundational work of the Malaysian Breast Cancer Genetics Studies, the largest breast cancer study in Malaysia established by Cancer Research Malaysia. Supported by a collaborative network of partners from the UK, US, Singapore, and our home base in Malaysia, alongside our esteemed members of the Healthier Lives Research Cluster at UNM, we have laid a robust foundation for our ongoing research initiatives. I am confident that this award will empower us to further strengthen these collaborations, engaging with a diverse range of stakeholders to determine the most effective strategies for disease control in our region", said Dr Ho, also the co-director of Healthier Lives Research Cluster at UNM.  

On the importance of funding cancer research, Professor Datin Paduka Dr Teo Soo-Hwang, OBE, Chief Scientific Officer at Cancer Research Malaysia added that, “This award recognises Dr Ho’s scientific brilliance and the impact of her leadership on cancer research. Dr Ho has already led pivotal studies on genetics in Asian breast cancers and advanced our understanding of how to accurately predict risk and how to use this information to ensure appropriate screening strategies in Asians – this way will enable us to develop these discoveries into tools that can impactfully change outcomes in the community.”  

With research being a key area for UNM, the university is actively seeking out potential donors, sponsors, and partners for research collaboration and support. The equal sponsorship and partnership between UNM and Cancer Research Malaysia in driving transformative impact demonstrates UNM’s ongoing dedication to research agendas that address the critical challenges of the modern age, for a healthier, more sustainable, and resilient future. 

“We are proud to note that the Wellcome Trust’s Career Development Award is the first-of-its-kind to be awarded in Malaysia. Our commitment at the University of Nottingham Malaysia has always been to advancing research and knowledge exchange, spearheading collaborative initiatives such as with Cancer Research Malaysia, and also fostering interdisciplinary partnerships. Fundamentally, we aim to address pressing real-world challenges locally, regionally, and at the international level”, said Professor Ir Dr Mohd Shahir Liew, Vice Provost of Research and Knowledge Exchange (RKE) at University of Nottingham Malaysia.

Posted on 31st January 2024

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