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Malaysian Wins Oxford Award

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LONDON: Oxford University student Ummi Abdullah, 28, a Malaysian, crammed four years of work into her 12-minute presentation that earned her the Ita Askonas Medal at the annual Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine Day (WIMM Day) on Friday.

Ummi, who is doing her PhD in molecular oncology, was one of four students from different departments at the institute to do a presentation before a panel of judges and 500 people in the audience at the Sa’id Business School after winning the best student presenter of her department last month.

“Every year, the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine holds WIMM Day, where students do a presentation of their study.

“This year, 20 students from different departments were shortlisted. And then, The top four were selected to compete in the final round,” said Ummi, a former Mara junior science college (MRSM) student and Yang di-Pertuan Agong scholar.

Ummi’s presentation, which earned her a monetary prize of £500 (RM2,700), was about her research project titled “Activation of a nuclease defective in Fanconi anaemia”.

The student, who hails from Kelantan, said her research involved studying the role of a particular protein, whose mutation caused genetic disorders.

“In Fanconi anaemia, for example, the mutation in that protein causes developmental defect and higher occurrences of cancer, and makes the patient less effective for chemotherapy,” she said during a meeting here.

“I discovered that it is activated when it interacts with another protein. So, we are collaborating with the Chemistry Department to inhibit the interaction.” she added.

The Ita Askonas medal was named after one of the founders of modern immunology, Professor Brigitte Askonas, who died recently.

Ummi, who is already married to Fathuallah Nawi, author of several books, such as 96 Secret Codes of Success, began her education at Sekolah Rendah Kebangsaan Islam in Kota Baru before leaving for Birmingham, England, for three years when her father did his PhD.

“After that, I was determined to go back to Malaysia to sit for my Penilaian Menengah Rendah examination because I knew that to continue my studies overseas, I needed to get good grades to get a scholarship.

“When I got 7As, I got the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Scholarship and went to study biotechnology at the State University of New York.”

After graduating with first-class honours, Ummi fast tracked to do her PhD at Oxford University.

Last year, she won the second prize in a poster presentation titled “The coordinated activity of XPF and RPA in ICL repair” during the Young Life Scientists’ Symposium in Rennes, France.

“I need to publish more papers and win more awards,” said the ambitious Ummi, who hopes to be a mediator in technology transfers.

“I was very nervous during the event where I had to present my PhD project in front of approximately 300 scientists, including Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel-Prize winner and president of the Royal Society.

“So, I was completely surprised when I was announced the winner because I thought the other three students were very good, too. It was unbelievable and surreal to be selected as the winner/best student presenter out of all PhD students in one of the biggest research centres at in the University of Oxford University.”

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