Prof Dr Ima Nirwana Soelaiman, A Prominent UKM Medical Centre Researcher

By Saiful Bahri Kamaruddin
Pix Shahiddan Saidi

KUALA LUMPUR, 10 August 2015 – The full support of the family is needed if a scientific researcher wants a successful career.

Research in medicine or other branches of science can take decades and the researcher will have to rely on the unwavering support of the spouse, children and even parents if he or she wants to yield results, said Prof Ima Nirwana Soelaiman of the National university of Malaysia Medical Centre (PPUKM).

“I remember whenever I thought I was not giving enough attention to my family, my husband took me aside and assured me that they would stick together, said the Deputy Dean (research and Innovation) of UKM’s Faculty of Medicine, at the opening of the 17th Medical and Health Research Week conference, here today.

“My mother who passed away in 2014, aged 90, also gave me a lot of encouragement and felt proud of her daughter doing research for mankind,” she said in her keynote address in recognition of her contribution to the studies on Osteoporosis.

She started her career in research 20 years ago when the government wanted local scientists to find ways of countering a well-funded campaign to smear Palm Oil and promote Soya Bean Oil in the United States.

Prof.  Ima Nirwana led a  team of researchers from the  UKM Medical Faculty to extract Tocotrienols, a vitamin E-rich compound from palm oil that might eventually be used in treatment to reduce the risk of Osteoporosis, or bones becoming brittle with age.

The 15-year research has received several international recognition, including a gold medal with merit on 34th International Exhibition and Inventions, New Techniques and Products in Geneva in 2006 and a gold medal at the Invention and New Products Exposition in Pennsylvania, USA  in 2008.

“The focus of my research is the impact of natural products on bone metabolism and osteoporosis, with special emphasis on tocotrienols.

“I have published 122 articles in scientific journals. Together with the team I had presented their work at over a hundred local and international conferences.

“The results from my studies on mice  have consistently shown that tocotrienols can prevent and reverse osteoporosis due to stressors, including menopause, estrogen and androgen deficiency, steroid excess, nicotine exposure and oxidative stress and inflammation,” she explained.

She is currently doing clinical trials on tocotrienols and osteoporosis in the USA and in Malaysia. She is a member of the Malaysian Osteoporosis Society and the Malaysia Endocrine and Metabolic Society. She holds a patent within Malaysia for the use of tocotrienol for bone health in humans.

Her  PhD thesis was on the antioxidant effects of tocotrienol-rich palm oil. As a young lecturer keen to focus on a research area,  she  was encouraged by her PhD mentor to study the effects of tocotrienols on osteoporosis.

“Why Osteoporosis? I am interested in osteoporosis because it is a significant medical issue, with profound implications for healthy aging. Around two hundred million people worldwide suffer from osteoporosis, and the United States alone has 44 million. An additional 33.6 million individuals have osteopenia, or low bone mass, which can lead to osteoporosis. In fact, osteoporosis is very serious, and the lifetime risk of fractures for men and women is on par with the risk of cardiovascular disease,” she told the appreciative audience.

Another reason for her  interest was that at that time, in 1995, the idea of using an antioxidant to combat osteoporosis was very novel. And tocotrienols from palm oil were the unknown siblings of the more famous alpha-tocopherol.

“My first research paper on the protective effects of vitamin E tocotrienols against osteoporosis induced by oxidative stress was in 1998. Little did I know that from one idea, many more flowered, leading to 20 years of passionate research thus far,” she added.ukmnewsportal-eg