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MCRA SUCCESS STORY : Nethia Mohana Kumaran

For over 10 years, nasopharynx and cervical cancer have been identified to be some of the more common cancers in Malaysia as reported by the Ministry of Health. It is truly a concerning issue which requires appropriate actions to be taken. Dr Nethia Mohana Kumaran, a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences (SBS) from Universiti Sains Malaysia, is among the many individuals whom have played their part in addressing this issue. Together with her team, they aim to have a better understanding on the survival of nasopharynx and cervical cancer cells.

The BCL-2 pro-survival proteins are frequently upregulated in cancers and are attractive therapeutic targets. Interestingly, different cell populations are addicted to different BCL-2 pro-survival protein(s) for survival. Dr Nethia and her team employ combination of genome editing technology and pharmacological approaches, to delineate pro-survival proteins that nasopharynx and cervical cancer cells are addicted for survival.

According to her, “Our ultimate goal is to shift from the “one size fits all” treatment strategy to optimally targeting pro-survival proteins that cancer cells depend for survival. Targeting relevant proteins would save time, cost and result in better patient outcome”.

Dr Nethia is very keen on developing an affordable cancer drug for the masses. A common problem with cancer drugs especially with small molecule inhibitors is not their effectiveness but affordability. For instance, cisplatin is a standard care treatment for nasopharynx cancer. However, over the time patients tend to develop resistance to this drug. One strategy to resensitise cancer cells to cisplatin is to combine cisplatin with natural compounds. Hence, with this strategy in mind, Dr Nethia and her team are currently studying the sensitivity of nasopharynx cancer cells towards combination of cisplatin and mitragyna alkaloids (purified from local ketum plant). They are also doing some pilot studies to understand mechanism of action of mitragyna alkaloids using computer modelling. This is a significant effort because by employing natural compounds as therapy for cancer, it shall lower the cost of treatment and make it accessible to patients.

She believes that the services provided by MAKNA, such as the MAKNA Cancer Research Award (MCRA), are fantastic efforts which signify their contribution towards the cancer-control community. Furthermore, MCRA acts as a seed grant for young researchers to put their ideas into action, propelling their pilot experiments which then allow them to apply for bigger funding in the future. It also provides visibility for the researcher and their work and this may result in networking with other researchers in the field.

Without a doubt, contribution of women in science has been phenomenal over the years and will continue to be. This is further proved by Emmanuelle Charpentier & Jennifer Doudna, two female researchers who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. For those who dreams of becoming a researcher, especially girls, Dr Nethia has a special message for you:

“Do not listen to people when they say that a job in science does not pay well and that it’s not exciting. If you are in love with science and research, just find ways to do it. Who knows you could be responsible for the next big discovery.”

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A young man’s brush with testicular cancer

Age is no guarantee for good health. Zuhairi was only 16 years old when he started experiencing frequent fevers. With the high temperature came an abnormal swelling of his right testis, alerting the young man that something was wrong.

“I immediately sought medical help and was scheduled for an ultrasound,” says the now 28-year-old. “The scan indicated the presence of an unusual growth. I was diagnosed with a malignant mixed germ cell tumour.”

This is a rare cancer comprising at least two types of germ cell tumours, which begin in the cells that form the sperm or eggs. They usually occur in the testicle or ovary, but occasionally also affect the chest, abdomen or brain.

Zuhairi was naturally terrified by the diagnosis.

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“After the second cycle, I told my late mother I didn’t want to continue chemo: my hair was falling, I couldn’t sleep and my body was so weak. She was ever compassionate and comforting, and promised that if I went through with the third cycle, it would be my last.”

It was, as the treatment proved successful. The road to recovery was rough but Zuhairi had a strong support system in the form of his family, who rallied around him at his lowest. “I’m very grateful for each and every one of them,” he shares. “They were always there beside me and gave me the strength to carry on.”

Life a decade later looks rather different than it did pre-diagnosis. While cancer can be caused by myriad factors, Zuhairi is careful to pay attention to elements within his control.

“Before all this happened, I didn’t really watch my eating habits or diet, for instance,” he says. “But now I am much more particular about the food I consume. As much as I used to dislike vegetables, I now include them more and more often in my meals. Ultimately, I ensure I look after my health.”

That includes taking charge of self-examinations and paying close attention to his body. Men tend to be more hesitant than women are in seeking medical help, but Zuhairi strongly advocates prioritising medical aid over embarrassment or denial.

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Testicular cancer is relatively uncommon, affecting one in 250 males at some point in their lifetime. The average age of patients upon diagnosis is the mid-30s, but children, teens and older males are also susceptible. However, survival rates are very high, so men are encouraged to seek treatment as early as possible for a smoother recovery.

*Photo shown is not the interview subject.

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People Of MAKNA – Amylia Mustapha

Ever since we were launched, MAKNA donors have always been a pillar that enables MAKNA to assist those who are less fortunate in dealing with cancer treatments and other related costs. In this edition of our People of MAKNA series, our staff, Amylia, shares her experience processing cancer patients’ applications, which are mostly from the B40 group. This group has shown a significant increase in number of applications since the MCO started.

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Going through a difficult time in life, particularly in facing the challenge of a chronic illness, is not easy for those who are less fortunate. Working in MAKNA since 2013 has given me multiple experiences, lessons and learning opportunities.

FINANCIAL AID APPLICATION THROUGH JKSP – MAKNA
The experience I gained while working under Bursary has matured my way of handling patient cases. As generally known, most applications that we received are from applicants in the PLI (Poverty Line Index) category, asnaf groups who are diagnosed with critical illness, plus the loss of strength and ability to look after and provide for themselves and their families. There were also some applications for infants.One of the stories that affected me was when a patient’s application was being processed, the patient passed away and didn’t get to go through the scheduled surgery because of their critical condition. I have also received a case where the patient was diagnosed at Stage 1, but the cancer worsened to Stage 4 because the patient could not afford to go to the hospital for treatment. Especially for patients from rural areas, the treatment and transportation costs become a huge burden for them. Apart from that, there are also patients who continuously need oxygen therapy for the rest of their lives.Graph

MCE PROGRAM (HOME STAY)
The MCE program, especially Home Stay, taught me to be grateful and tolerant. The 3 days 2 nights experience at the home humbled me when I saw their hardship and tried to understand the problems they were facing. Most patients who stay at the home are from rural areas who face difficulties whenever they need to go to the hospital because they live in mountainous areas with minimum utilities and incomplete facilities. MAKNA staff’s visits are always welcomed though they live with much less. There are also cancer patients who are bedridden, weak and could only depend on long-term financial aid for treatment as well as subsistence from others.

HOME VISITS
I have also made home visits to patients before. As a MAKNA staff, we are required to visit patients to see their conditions for ourselves and understand the issues they face as cancer patients. There are patients who live in old, dilapidated wooden houses where the floors are brittle and worn through. It’s undeniable that the life’s adversities and the chronic illness, which incurs additional treatment and transportation costs, burden their whole family. Emotional support and the help to find the best solutions for their problems need to be offered.

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I am very grateful to be working in MAKNA and helping the less fortunate cancer patients in easing their application process. I won’t forget my time in MAKNA because I’m sure I won’t be able to experience it elsewhere. MAKNA is also very keen in giving emotional support and taking care of its patients and staff’s welfare.

Thank you MAKNA, for giving me the chance to continue serving in this meaningful organization. May Allah SWT bless this whole organization. Aamiin yarabbalalaamiin!

Amylia Mustapha,Executive (Bursary)

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MCRA SUCCESS STORY : Dr Kue Chin Siang

Dr Kue Chin Siang was one of the recipients for MAKNA Cancer Research Award 2017. He completed his Master Degree in Biotechnology (Immunology) at Korea University and Doctorate in Pharmacology at University of Malaya. His research interests are discovering anticancer drug and drug delivery for selective targeting in cancer.

One of the main reasons why he wants to be involved in cancer research is because of a personal experience. His mother passed away due to late diagnosis with Stage 4 lung cancer, despite finishing the chemotherapy. Following that incidence, he started to venture into cancer immunology and pharmacology to explore better drug for treatment of cancer.

He is well concerned with the fact that the overall survival rate of cancer patients is relatively low, especially those diagnosed during the late stages. A plausible solution to this issue is by trying to detect the cancer as early as possible. He believes that early detection and treatment can be achieved through biomarkers, specifically the molecule that uniquely expressed on cancer cells. Many biomarkers have been identified for various cancers, and to improve the cancer treatment, he and his team work in designing small moleculesthat specifically target biomarker overexpressed on the cancer cell surface. This molecule can then be linked to theanticancer drug or imaging probe, to specifically deliver to the cancer cells and improve the therapeutic efficacy without harming normal cells.

According to him, photodynamic therapy (PDT) and surface molecule targeted therapy or immunotherapyare uncommon in Malaysia, compared to chemotherapy. More research should be conducted to discover new anticancer drugs and treatment methods to improve the therapeutic outcome. His international collaborators and local team(MSU &UM) are actively studying and improving the delivery and efficacy of the photosensitizing agent to cancer, through the surface marker expressed on cancer cells.

Currently a senior lecturer at Management & Science University (MSU), he encourages students who are passionate in research to make a brave decision in pursuing their dreams. He advised young researchers to be physically and mentally prepared to cope with the stress throughout the journey, but the sweat and tears will be rewarded with excitement which will unveil throughout the research. He wishes to convey his admiration to all fellow researchers out there and hopes that they will be able to keep up the good work that they are doing for the sake of the greater good.

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Braving Cancer With MAKNA – Azian Hanim


Cancer through a caregiver’s eyes

A positive diagnosis affects not only the patient, but their loved ones too. To mark World Cancer Day this month, a mother shares how she copes with her daughter’s Stage 3 brain cancer.

In 2018, AzianHanim Binti Abu Taleb had her world turned upside down when a minor tumour in her daughter’s brain developed into Stage 3 Left Anaplastic Ependymoma and caused a seizure. Doctors declared that her brain had shut down and requested permission to disconnect her from life support, but her surgeon asked to attempt surgery with a 50:50 chance of survival. The 10-hour procedure saved her life but the battle was far from over.

“It was devastating to think that my daughter was alive in the morning and suddenly declared dead by evening,” shares Azian. “I couldn’t fathom it. I asked the doctors to hold off on disconnecting the life support machine so I could pray to God, and I truly believe my prayer was answered.”

The surgery left her daughter with severe side effects, including memory loss, paralysis of the right side of her body and heightened sensitivity towards noise and bright lights. A second surgery a few weeks later robbed her of speech and movement.

“She was like a newborn baby,” continues Azian. “The whole situation took a heavy toll on her. She was bedridden and could only drink milk through a tube, which resulted in severe weight loss. She was completely dependent on us and needed round-the-clock care.”

The physical and emotional challenges on the family were compounded by increasing financial strain. A single mother with seven school-going children, Azian had to quit her job to provide the care her daughter needed. Two of her children sacrificed their education to work, and Azian herself would make and sell kuihkapit for additional income when possible. Still, the family was barely scraping by.

“At the most desperate times, we were forced to sell some possessions,” she says. “When MAKNA approached us to offer support, I felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders. They provided essentials for my daughter such as a wheelchair, milk supplements, and diapers. They also covered our travel costs to and from the hospital and even provided an allowance for my children who are still studying. I am incredibly thankful for their assistance. “

Despite the monumental challenges, Azian strives to maintain a positive attitude.

“I prefer to not think about my situation as hard, no matter how trying it can be sometimes,” she says. “I always convince myself that everything will be okay and that there are people out there who are facing much bigger problems, so I should be thankful and not give up easily. My children are my source of strength. I think of them constantly and remind myself that I need to set an example for them by being strong.”

Caregiving is a vital and demanding role, and caregivers need to look after themselves just as much as they do their patients. There are numerous resources about caregiving, including here and here, that might offer insights and support.

World Cancer Day is celebrated every February 4th to raise global awareness of the disease and encourage prevention, detection, and treatment. Early intervention saves lives!

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MCRA SUCCESS STORY : DR RONALD

As a young researcher, getting grants or funds can be a rather challenging task. Knowing the importance of searching for better treatment and possible cure for cancer, MAKNA set up the MAKNA Cancer Research Award (MCRA). This award is made available specifically to young researcher, in order to encourage more participation from them in the field of cancer. Furthermore, this award will also act as a platform which put a spotlight on excellent talents and help them to grow.

For 2016 MAKNA Cancer Research Award, Dr Ronald Teow Sin Yeang was one of the recipients. He is currently a Senior Lecturer at Sunway University. Based in the Department of Medical Sciences in School of Medical and Life Sciences, he is one of the young Malaysian scientists who are conducting research in the field of cancer.

His research focuses on the biology of cancer in colorectal cancer (CRC) including interaction of KRAS mutation and autophagy, and SEPT9 DNA methylation/autophagy interaction. Recently, his research teams have also moved towards understanding the role of gut and oral microbiome in CRC as well as exploring nanomaterials-based anticancer candidates for potential cancer therapies.

According to him, MCRA has given significant impact on his development at Sunway University when he was a research fellow or also known as postdoc. With the existence of the Award, he was able continue his effort towards finding better treatment for cancer

Since the inception of his research, at least two publications and a book chapter have been generated from the findings. Some of the relevant data have also been used for application of other larger-scale MOHE national grants such as Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS) and Trans-disciplinary Research Grant Scheme (TRGS). Other than that, he had the opportunity to participate in several local and international conferences and invited talks, which led him to additional external research collaborations.

He encourages other postgraduate students, research assistants and peers to apply for the prestigious Award. He himself aspires to conduct many more research projects and without a doubt will look to apply for the Award again so that he can contribute more to the society

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5 Reasons To Donate to Charitable Organisations

Today, there are numerous charitable organisations and social enterprises which are established across the globe including in Malaysia. These entities dedicate their effort towards helping underprivileged communities, striving to make the world a better place for everyone.

In order for this to become a reality, a great deal of effort and resources have to be allocated especially in terms of financial allocation. Accordingly, most organisations and enterprises are actively seeking donations to raise funds either from corporate sectors or the general public. Thus, to support their cause we are highly encouraged to make donations.

  • Every Donation Counts
    • Whether it is a one-time or continuous donation, every donation can make a difference. Even if the amount is little, your donation means the world to the many people in need out there. Moreover, a compounded amount of small donations will eventually result to a great sum at the end of the day.
  • Financial Benefits Opportunity
    • What you give you get back. By making donations to charitable organisations approved by the Inland Revenue Board of Malaysia (LHDN), you are entitled for a tax receipt. The receipt can be used to claim for tax deduction from your aggregate income for your annual income tax payment. Learn more about the allowable tax deduction from donation in Malaysia here http://www.hasil.gov.my/bt_goindex.php?bt_kump=5&bt_skum=1&bt_posi=4&bt_unit=1&bt_sequ=1
  • Set Up A Good Example to Children
    • For children, parents are their role model. As demonstrated by the famous psychologist Albert Bandura, children’s development can be rooted from the observation, imitation and modelling of their surroundings. By showing them your effort to support charitable organisations, it is very likely for them to do the same in the future.
  • Kindness is Contagious
    • When you donate, you can also influence others such as our family members or friends to support charitable organisations. When more people donate, more people will be motivated to join the cause. Ultimately, we can create a fabric of society that can help each other together as one.
  • Emotional and Spiritual Joy
    • Helping others can create a sense of joy and satisfaction for your soul. Donating to charitable organisations will not only help them continue their effort but also promotes your emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Here at MAKNA (Majlis Kanser Nasional), we are committed towards assisting underprivileged cancer patients. With your donation, we can reduce the burden of cancer together. You can choose to either make single donation or monthly donation starting from as low as RM38 per month. Plus, you are entitled to receive tax receipt together with our newsletter when you pledge for our monthly donation programme.

Click here https://makna.org.my/donate/ to donate to us and support our work.