UPM Researcher Receives Prestigious Grants To Study Brain Diseases Using Patient’s Stem Cells | Universiti Putra Malaysia
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UPM researcher receives prestigious grants to study brain diseases using patient’s stem cells

By: Azman Zakaria

SERDANG: A researcher from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Assoc. Prof. Dr. Michael Ling King Hwa, has received two prestigious international awards, the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) Return Home Fellowship 2021 and the International Society for Neurochemistry Return Home Grant Award 2021, as the first researcher from the country to be given both the awards simultaneously.

The awards, together with a grant allocation, are given to those selected after undergoing postdoctoral training in a developed country and returning to their home country to conduct studies and research.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Michael Ling underwent postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, USA, from 2016 to 2018, and was seconded from 2018 to 2020, which qualified him for the fellowship and grant, with UPM support, upon returning to Malaysia earlier this year.

The International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) Return Home Fellowship allocated a grant of EUR20,000 (approximately RM95,000), while the International Society for Neurochemistry Return Home Grant Award is worth USD10,000 (approximately RM41,600).

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Michael Ling, who is also a lecturer from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UPM, will conduct preliminary research related to brain diseases.

He will research brain organoids related to Down syndrome using cerebral organoids.

According to him, the research involves growing organs outside the body using the patients' stem cells.

"The patient’s stem cells are harvested and grown into organoids," he said.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Michael Ling elaborated that using patient’s stem cells would result in more accurate observation of the disease mechanisms than using the animal models in research.

He said research through the organoid system model would allow the occurrence and process of the disease to be known because the model uses cells from the patients themselves, which can be compared with cells from healthy people.

"Therefore, we can find disease mechanisms for treatment purposes such as developing treatment methods and related drugs.

"The organoid system model will enable us to learn about the disease as a whole; it is like a 'jigsaw puzzle' where we can build organoids for different organs such as the brain, spinal cord, and muscles.

“All three can be combined as systemic organoids, and we can study the effects of the disease as a whole and not just based on a single organ or group of cells. This is the direction for the future," he said.

He said much-existing research have used living animal models, namely mice, but since they are not human, the observations from animal models cannot be translated directly to humans.

“Now we are studying organoids growing from human stem cells which are more relevant to human biology and more accurate. In the future, it can replace the use of animal models in research,” he added.

Apart from Down syndrome, he said other brain-related diseases studied through brain organoids include senility, dementia, schizophrenia, hallucination, bipolar disorder and depression.

"Down syndrome causes intellectual disability. Thus, to know the process of brain development, we use the organoid system to find out what leads to the intellectual disability,” he said.

He hoped that the government would provide financial assistance in the field of research so that more researchers could explore the field, in line with the development of technology to be on par with developed countries. - UPM

Date of Input: 22/11/2021 | Updated: 22/11/2021 | hairul_nizam

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