UMBI is 13 years old: A new stage of maturity

Professor Datuk Dr. A Rahman A Jamal

Time indeed flies especially when you are having fun. UMBI is 13 years old today and if we likened this to the development of a human being, it is certainly the commencement of an important stage of maturity. It has not been all fun, but the journey in the past 13 years has seen many challenges, obstacles and tribulations which have enriched the experience of everyone working in UMBI. We would like to thank everyone for their contribution.

UMBI is well known for its own way of doing things and the way we position ourselves. Management gurus call this ‘culture’. We are indeed proud of this. A good working culture leads to a good reputation. It is this reputation which has landed UMBI a good number of national projects and this is certainly not by chance. The Malaysian Cohort project is the epitome of a national project unsurpassed by any other project in Malaysia with regard to it scale and volume. This is certainly Big Data no matter which perspective you see it. After 10 years, we are already now harnessing and mining the data with the aim of not only publishing one journal article per month but more importantly generating new knowledge which could benefit healthcare in the nation. At least that’s the challenge we have posed to the Cohort team. The Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) has just visited us this week and is very keen to work with the big data which we have.

The Cohort is not just the only set of Big Data which UMBI has built and ‘treasured’ (it is indeed precious data). Our voluminous genome research on cancers and other diseases has yielded terabytes of human genome data which is the largest in the nation. To date we have already done whole exome sequencing on 167 samples and whole genome sequencing on 126 samples, including cancers, rare diseases and normal individuals. If there is one human genome centre in the nation then UMBI has it. We are indeed glad that, whilst the UK launched the 100,000 genomes England project in 2012 and the USA announced a precision medicine initiative in 2015, UMBI is already on this genome- bandwagon which will transform healthcare in the decades to come. UMBI has remained relevant to the latest in research and will continue to remain so in the future.

We have also seen a few senior researchers who have left UMBI in the past year. We salute their outstanding achievement and thanked them for their contribution to the university and to our institute. We have now a relatively young team in UMBI, minus the director, but let’s not be fooled by their average age. They are a bunch of scientists with a great potential. UMBI now is highly selective of recruitment as, like other good institutions, we believe we need to bring in the best and also retain the best.

We have also seen many of our students graduating over the years. This year, 12 more will graduate from their MSc and PhD programmes. UMBI’s graduates are much sought after and there is little issue of employability or marketability. Many have received job offers even before they have finished writing their theses. We are indeed glad that we have this good reputation which our students carry with them when they leave UMBI to continue their career. We wish the best of luck to all our students.

As we look ahead, UMBI can only get better. Our research fellows are already moving into a higher gear and aiming for a higher productivity. Their passion for science and the awareness of ‘publish or perish’ will indeed spur everyone to deliver what they have promised. We also have 5 of our tutors who will return in the next 1-2 years with their PhDs and will add to the strength, breadth and depth of expertise in UMBI. We just need to remember to focus on quality research which will lead to quality output and not just play the numbers’ game.

We believe that we can sustain ourselves even in this difficult time of economic slowdown and budget cuts. We should all continue to aim higher and push ourselves further to the limit. As we celebrate our 13th anniversary, we hope and pray for more successes to come our way and that we shall work together to harness the resources available and reach greater heights.