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IMU-IMR Collaborative Research Team Reports Breakthrough towards the Development of Nose Cancer Treatment

21 May 2021

February 15, 2021 marked the 20-year anniversary of publications reporting the draft human genome sequence. A technique of genome-wide screen borne out of the knowledge of the human genome enabled Malaysian researchers to rapidly screen cancer genomes for potential targets which could be developed for treatment. Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) (commonly known as nose cancer) is a major cancer in South East Asian countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. The cancer disportionately affects men in the working age group, who usually breadwinners of families. The Bidayuh ethnic group in Sarawak is known to have the highest incidence rates of this cancer in the world. However, this cancer is rare in the West and world-wide research on this cancer lags behind other cancer.

An International Medical UniversityInstitute for Medical Research (IMU-IMR) research team used a cutting edge technology called RNA interference to rapidly screen for genes across the cancer genome to identify potential vulnerabilities of the cancer, which could be targeted for treatment. To do so, the team carried out screens which identified genes important for growth of the cancer cells which were also important to confer resistance to cisplatin, a commonly used anti-cancer drug.

Their work was published as an article entitled “Parallel genome-wide RNAi screens identify lymphocyte-specific protein tyrosine kinase (LCK) as a targetable vulnerability of cell proliferation and chemoresistance in nasopharyngeal carcinoma” in the esteemed Cancer Letters journal (

“Understanding the cancer genomes and their function is important in creating new opportunities for discovering and developing new interventions” said Prof Leong Chee Onn, the Deputy Director of the Institute for Research, Development and Innovation at the IMU, the leader of the IMU research team and senior author of the manuscript. Dr Alan Khoo, former head of the Cancer Research Centre at the IMR, Adjunct Professor at the IMU, leader of the IMR team and co-senior author of the manuscript said, “We are happy to have reached this milestone in research through collaborative research with the IMU. Further research would need to be carried out to bring the findings in the lab to make an impact on clinical care” The other members of the team were Kitson Liew, Gibson Yu Qi Sheng, Lesley Pua Jia Wei, Wong Li Zhe, Tham Shiau Ying, Hii Ling Wei, Lim Wei Meng Lim, Brian Yong Ming Ou, Looi Chin King, Mai Chun Wai, Felicia Chung Fei-Lei, Tan Lu Ping and Munirah Ahmad.

About IMU The IMU was founded in 1992 as Malaysia’s first and most established full-fledged private medical and health sciences university. Today, the IMU offers over 20 health professional programmes at pre-university, undergraduate and postgraduate levels in Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Health Sciences, and Postgraduate Studies.

About IMR The IMR was founded in 1900 as Malaysia’s first research institute. It is the sole biomedical research institute under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Ministry of Health Malaysia and is tasked to carry out research which impacts health and healthcare in the country.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the IMU and NIH on 26 July 2018 to foster collaborations in medical research between the two entities.

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