Tuesday, 3 April 2012

"Pharmacogenomics is becoming very big and gaining more recognition worldwide"

Last December 2011 I had the opportunity to have an informal chat with Associate Prof. Dr. Johnson Stanslas (Pharmacotherapeutics Unit, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Putra, Malaysia – CV Here] who kindly agreed to grant The Toxicologist Today Blog some of his perspectives as a former University of Nottingham postgraduate and a current international researcher based overseas. I have no real skills as a journalist and the merit of the issues debated with Dr. Stanslas comes from his long experience as a researcher. However, I tried my very best in approaching Dr. Stanslas with interesting questions on the grounds of what can be expected from science in Malaysia, going through hints on how to improve research partnerships worldwide and finally understanding  more in-depth on how his own research intentions are delivering excellent results. 

The “rationale” for our meeting came from the opportunity arisen due to the seminar at the Centre for Biomedical Sciences in the University of Nottingham. Dr Stanslas was in the University of Nottingham to share with us his perspectives on "Exploring Malaysian Biodiversity: A Rich Source of Natural Drug Prototypes" on a Friday, the 16th of December 2012.

For the first time, The Toxicologist Today had the opportunity to conduct an informal conversation with a prestigious international researcher, thus, your comments on this new format are more than welcome so I can improve the quality of the information provided, as well as to enhance the interest of the subjects brought up to the blog. I will tell in the third person how the answers were dealt with by my first guest to this format.

You’ve studied in the University of Nottingham back in 1995 to 1998, how do you think things have changed for you professionally after your research experience in this University?

Dr. Stanslas replied that he always had tremendous interest in cancer drugs and that was the main reason for him to focus on studying a plant. However, Dr. Stanslas felt that being in Malaysia can be difficult at times if one is considering conducting advanced level of research. He explained that as opposed to Europe and United States (where the best of the scientists brainstorming takes place Malaysia is still having problems ins retaining their research projects, thus being difficult to emerge as a potential place for developing advanced level of research.In the United Kingdom the networking is good when you come across new ideas, and there are bigger and better opportunities, loads of seminars to attend, with up-to-date findings, That very rarely happens back in Malaysia. Nevertheless, the Malaysian government is trying hard and is now improving funding opportunities to do world class research, but there is still a lot of work to be achieved as Malaysia is still tremendously focused on applied research.

You hold a long lasting link to the Universiti Putra Malaysia, since 1998 if I’m not wrong. Do you think a young researcher has more to gain from sticking to the same university or it is preferable to roam around a few research centres first.

Dr. Stanslas stressed out the economic differences and frustration that can be found back in Malaysia. Personally, he wanted to progress and that was the reason why he made his move towards the United Kingdom. In his opinion Malaysian people believe that it is good to stay in the same job forever. Nonetheless, Malaysia cannot be considered as a good model to follow. In the UK, he sees why people want to move; one of the most important reasons being the availability of ever more knowledge and the possibility to explore more opportunities, novel opportunities that will enhance your portfolio.

What professional adventures would you like to look for in the future?

Dr. Stanslas considers that Pharmacogenomics is becoming very big and gaining more recognition worldwide. His passion is to study cancer and developing targeted therapies that cause fewer side effects is what he will aim for professionally in the coming years. Chemo is cheaper than the new drugs that are good and specific (those that do not affect normal tissue in the body). The challenge is to test this drugs (toxicity wise), but the biggest challenge is treating advanced cancer.

In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges science will face in the coming years? What would you consider to be a breakthrough in your scientific area in the coming years?

Dr. Stanslas explained that he sees research for developing targeted therapies that cause fewer side effects when treating cancer as a crucial spotlight for the coming years. He also added that chemotherapy is a cheaper approach when compared to the new drugs available in the market; drugs that are good and specific (those that do not affect normal tissue in the body). Nevertheless, the challenge is to test these drugs (toxicity wise), but the biggest challenge is treating advanced cancer.

Prof Stanslas said that the field he’s into suffers poor funding in Malaysia, which actually makes the progress to be very slow.

Where is Malaysia when considering the Global Scientific Panorama?
Dr. Stanslas explained that Malaysia is not fortunate enough to retain the brains. He also quoted that “We are not too far behind other countries; our problem is geographical. The Brain Gain Malaysia (BGM) is a governmental project intended to tackle this issue but the recipe is not perfect, people can’t stand the gap between having loads of opportunities in other countries and the cultural constraints in Malaysia, thus a change is needed in these terms. There are a lot of strategies being implemented in Malaysia and we are trying hard but geographically we are left behind”.

I’d like to thank Prof Dr Johnson Stanslas once again for his kindness in providing this humble Toxicology blog the opportunity to know, in the first person, what science is being conducted worldwide.  

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