28 Mar 2016 IMU Alumnus and Lecturer Receives 2016 Research Mobility Grant for Research Attachment in Italy

IMU Alumnus and Lecturer, Dr Mai Chun Wai is the first recipient of the 2016 Research Mobility Grant, which was awarded at the Researcher Mobility in Drug Discovery Workshop in December 2015. Dr Mai was one of the 40 researchers, selected by Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to participate in this Workshop in United Kingdom.

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The Researcher Mobility in Drug Discovery Workshop was a 2-day residential workshop for researchers across the life sciences to share their scientific expertise, expand their knowledge of drug discovery and develop new networks and skills. The workshop was fully sponsored by RSC, the British Pharmacological Society and the Biochemical Society with additional sponsorship from RSC and AstraZeneca.

The workshop was facilitated by senior drug discovery experts drawn from major pharmaceutical companies (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Parexel, Leo Pharma) and research institutions (Institute for Cancer Research, Birmingham University, Huddersfield University and Wellcome Trust) who provided mentorship as well as outline opportunities for workshop participants to build stronger links with industry.

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As a recipient of the 2016 Research Mobility Grant, Dr Mai had the opportunity to be in a research attachment at the Institute of Protein Biochemistry (IBP), National Research Council, Naples, Italy.

During this research attachment, he was investigating the bioactive compounds from Antarctic soil bacteria under the supervision of Dr Donatella de Pascale. This project is a collaborative effort among British Antarctic Survey (BAS), IMU and Institute of Protein Biochemistry in National Research Council (IBP-CNR) of Italy.

The Institute of Protein Biochemistry (IBP) investigates fundamental biological processes and its applications. The areas of interest are protein structure-function, cell biology, immunology and pharmacology. The institute also focus on translational research in biotechnologies and drug discovery in cancer, immune, infections, inflammatory, neurological or rare diseases, and vaccination. The IBP is embedded in the Castellino campus, a large and growing research area encompassing other six National Research Council with synergic areas of expertise: IGB (genetics, molecular biology and biophysics) IMM (microfluidics, photonics) ICAR (ICT and bioinformatics), IAC (mathematical, statistical and computational platforms), IBBR and IBAF (agriculture and environmental science); and several spin-offs and industrial research laboratories.

Dr Donatella de Pascale is a well-known researcher in bioprospecting from extreme environments. Microorganisms that inhabit in these regions represent an untapped reservoir of biodiversity, and their promising biotechnological potential, as source of novel compounds. Dr Donatella’s team has been well equipped with expertise to identify novel antimicrobial compounds.

Dr Mai worked very closely with Dr Donatella and her PhD students, Pietro Tedesco and Fortunato Palma Esposito. Both these PhD students are working on isolating bioactive compounds from Antarctica marine bacteria. They have been very helpful to Dr Mai throughout his 10 days attachment in Italy.

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Speaking on his experience, Dr Mai said, “Previously, I have isolated several bacteria from various Antarctic soils with potential medicinal properties. During the visit at IBP, I performed liquid-liquid extraction in the isolates from Antarctic soils. It is a good learning experience for me since my PhD studies was solely on molecular biology. Dr Donatella has also shared with me how the team developed the drug discovery pipeline from environmental samples to lead compounds. The crude extracts were fractionated by solid phase extraction in order to obtain semi-purified biological active fractions. Ultimately we will identify the pure compounds using various separation techniques.”

Dr Mai also had the opportunity to meet Dr Paulina Corral Villa, a young enthusiastic post-doctoral researcher who is undertaking her Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS) fellowship in Dr Donatella’s laboratory. She has discovered a marine bacteria with selective and potent anti-microbial activities against multi-drug resistant pathogens.

“Her insight in research will always be my inspiration in my research career. It is also good to meet the other postgraduate and undergraduate students who are very passionate in their on-going research projects”

This collaboration will still continue when Dr Mai returns to Malaysia. “We will be submitting joint research proposals based on the preliminary data obtained from this attachment. It was indeed a very meaningful visit for me to IBP”.

Related article: Fantastic Opportunity for Research Collaboration with Renowned UK Researchers

About Dr Mai Chun Wai
Dr Mai Chun Wai graduated with First Class Honours and Dean’s List from the IMU Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) in 2009. He was the recipient of Sanofi-Aventis Award and Kotra Pharma Award for excellence in research and pharmaceutical technology, respectively, in the graduating class. He was also awarded the IMU Young Alumnus Award 2012. Chun Wai graduated with PhD in Medical and Health Sciences (By Research) from IMU in 2014 and currently appointed as Lecturer in School of Pharmacy, IMU. In view of his outstanding performance in research, Chun Wai is also the best posters or oral presenters in several national and international conferences. He is actively participating in several national research grants. His research findings are also available in international scientific papers. 

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