– HICoE Success Stories

1. A 19-Gene expression signature as a predictor of survival in colorectal cancer (HICoE grant)

The study aimed to determine gene expression signatures as a reliable prognostic marker that could predict survival of colorectal cancer patients with Dukes’ B and C.  DNA microarray gene expression profiles of 78 archived tissues of patients with Dukes’ B and C were examined using the Illumina DASL assay. The gene expression data were analyzed using the GeneSpring software and R programming as well as performing three statistical methods (SAM, LIMMA and t-test) to identify significant genes. The analyses identified 19 significant common genes that have been permutated 100 times namely NOTCH2, ITPRIP, FRMD6, GFRA4, OSBPL9, CPXCR1, SORCS2, PDC, C12orf66, SLC38A9, OR10H5, TRIP13, MRPL52, DUSP21, BRCA1, ELTD1, SPG7, LASS6 and DUOX2. This 19-gene signature was able to significantly predict the survival of patients with colorectal cancer compared to the conventional Dukes’ classification in both training and test sets (p < 0.05). The performance of this signature was further validated as a significant independent predictor of survival using patient cohorts from Australia (n = 185), USA (n = 114), Denmark (n = 37) and Norway (n = 95) (p < 0.05). Validation using quantitative PCR confirmed similar expression pattern for the six selected genes. Profiling of these 19 genes may provide a more accurate method to predict survival of patients with colorectal cancer and assist in identifying patients who require more intensive treatment. (Published in BMC Med Genomics. 2016; 9(1): 58.)

2. UMBI Wellness Centre

UMBI has been trusted to spearhead The Malaysian Cohort Project (TMC), which is to date the largest health screening project in Malaysia. The project commenced in 2006 and so far has successfully collected health data and biospecimens from 119,000 participants recruited from all over the country.The TMC participants were volunteers who came from different ethnic groups, representing the whole Malaysian populations. The participants had to answer a questionnaire, followed by health screening and biospecimens collection which are all free-of-charge. These recruited participants will be followed-up in 4-5 years’ time. Due to the budget limitation, TMC only focuses on the existing 119, 000 participants and does not recruit any new participants. Nonetheless, TMC has been receiving many requests from the community to be part of this project especially from the B40 group who intends to undergo free health screening process .

Therefore, UMBI and TMC came up with an initiative to establish the UMBI Wellness Centre (UWC) in order to accommodate these high demands. UMBI has been in operation since April 3rd 2017 with its main objective is to provide affordable and comprehensive health screening to the community. Since its initation, UWC has conducted more than 2000 health screening on the community and managed to generate income worth more than RM300,000.  In addition to providing the best health screening packages with an affordable prove, UWC has become an important source of incomes to UMBI and TMC. Thus, UWC would be the avenue for UMBI to be an institute that is able to generate 30% of its self-income.

3. UMBI-HCTM Biobank

The success of medical and biomedical research hinges on many factors, including the availability of biospecimens to be studied. The discovery that long-term storage of biospecimens such as tissues and cells is feasible at temperatures below -70oC, paved the way for archiving these samples to be used for research at a later time. Medicine- and health science-associated faculties and research institutes of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) have been actively carrying out medical and biomedical research since the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine in 1970. In addition, with the establishment of UKM Medical Molecular Biology Institute (UMBI) in 2003, research in molecular medicine in UKM has gained traction, in line with the personalized medicine initiative. To this end, biospecimens – including the availability and quality of these samples for research, will be important. Storage of biospecimens, especially a large quantity of samples, for future research requires careful planning and management of infrastructure, logistics, human resource and funding. Until 2005, a facility to serve this purpose was still not available in UKM, or in the country.

The Hospital Canselor Tuanku-Muhriz-UMBI Biobank was established in 2005 for safe, secure and systematic storage of biospecimens for future medical and biomedical research use. The biobank is located at the ground floor of the UMBI building at the campus of Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. It is equipped with 8 units of liquid nitrogen tank and 12 units of -80oC freezers. A wireless temperature monitoring system and nitrogen gas leak detector ensures the required temperature for storage. The bank’s collection of biospecimens were kindly donated from consending patients for future use in research. All donor data is stored in UMBI’s highly-secured Total Research Information Management System (TRIMS).

To date, more than 6,500 cases of biospecimens from medical cases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes have been collected, with about 68,000 tubes of their corresponding samples (extracted DNA, serum, plasma, normal tissue, tumor tissue, mononuclear cells and red blood cells) stored in the bank. The biobank is now often a reference for other biobanks in the country. For example, the biobank management has been invited to provide input at the Biobank Consortium Workshop. In fact, UMBI has been invited to be a member of the committee of the National Biobank Consortium Malaysia Task Force which is led by the Director General of Health, Ministry of Health Malaysia. The bank often receives visits from academics and industry partners, and also scientists from abroad.

4. COVID-19 Testing 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to increase the numbers of the diagnostic testing because early identification of person-infected with SAR-CoV-2 is crucial in order to curb and reduce the rapid spread of the virus. Nonetheless, the current national public health laboratories were not able to meet the demand because the number of test requests were higher than the laboratories’ capacity. UMBI as one of the leading molecular medicine institute in Malaysia volunteer to help the Ministry of Health Malaysia to perform the diagnostic testing for SAR-CoV-2 virus using RT-PCR method. Although, UMBI’s niche is not infectious disease but all staffs in UMBI have experience in biology molecular techniques including RNA extraction and RT-PCR assay.