Reflecting the high standard of the Merdeka Award, a rigorous and stringent appraisal process is applied to the selection of Grant recipients and Sophia is only one of three recipients for the 2017, which received close to 80 applications. Sophia will undertake a research titled ‘Lipidomics Profiling and Risk of Early-Onset Myocardial Infarction’ at one of UK’s most established lipidomics centres --the University of Cambridge.
The attachment is part of Sophia’s preparation to participate in an upcoming local study called The Malaysian Acute Vascular Events Risk (MAVERIK) Study. The study will look at acute cardiovascular risk and is a collaboration between the UK Research Council/Newton Fund, the Institute for Medical Research and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia. It will be the largest study of its kind to date and will have 5,000 participants—2,500 patients with first onset myocardial infarction and 2,500 normal participants who are case-matched to the patients (patients have to be less than 50 years old). Sophia said: “This means they will be race, gender and age matched.”
Among the parameters the researchers plan to look at are genetics and biochemical—including lipidomics—factors of myocardial infarction among Malaysians. According to Sophia, most of the knowledge pertaining to cardiovascular diseases is based on the Western population. However, Malaysia has a population that is distinct and unique. Therefore, among the aims of the study is to elucidate unique biomarkers of the Malaysian population, including the differences between the major ethnic groups. The findings could potentially lead to further targeted treatment strategies which would then lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases. The MAVERIK study also aims to look at specific cardiovascular risk factors unique to the Malaysian population, such as indigenous forms of tobacco consumption and local dietary patterns.
Prior to being a researcher, Sophia practiced medicine in the government setting. She was based in the Ministry of Health (MOH) for 8 years before finally taking the jump to research. While practicing, Sophia, whom not content to rest on her laurels, obtained her Masters in Public Health. She said: “As a doctor, you impact the patients you see and attend to. The patients you see are limited and small in number. Whereas as a public health physician, your actions impact large swathes of the population.”
Even as a medical officer, Sophia had a great interest in non-communicable diseases (NCDs). She said: “Non-communicable diseases are so unique—they are so wholesome i.e., they are mostly connected.” This interconnectivity between NCDs is what drove her into the field of research, as she wanted to know more about how the diseases are related.
Dream big, aim high
When asked about her advice for future applicants of the attachment grant, Sophia said: “You have to dream big. You have to dream big and you have to tell the panel what the 3-month attachment can do not just for you but also for the country.” Most importantly, she said, one must try—if you don’t submit an application, you’ll never know if you can succeed.
Sophia was also asked about the interview process. She said: “You have to know how to explain your ideas. Tell the panel what the 3-month attachment can do, what it can achieve.”
On what gives her strength, Sophia assuredly attributed her achievements to her family and her faith. She said: “I pray every day for inner strength and for His blessing.” And when times get tough, or when she needs help, her mother is always a phone call away. Sophia’s mom, who is based in Singapore, readily makes the trip back to Kuala Lumpur when she requires support. Of that, Sophia expresses her heartfelt gratitude to her parents. She jokingly added that having a healthy mom is very important to keep.
About the Merdeka Award and the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment
The Merdeka Award was established on 27th August 2007 to recognise and reward excellent individuals and organisations whose works and achievements have not only contributed to the nation's growth but have also inspired greatness in the people of Malaysia. It is a prestigious award that honours their outstanding effort and role in living the 'Merdeka' spirit. In his speech during the 2017 Merdeka Award Announcement and Presentation Ceremony, Tan Sri Wan Zulkiflee, President of PETRONAS, representing the Merdeka Award Board of Trustees said, “In 2007, PETRONAS, ExxonMobil and Shell came together to initiate the Merdeka Award. The Merdeka Award was founded as a joint endeavour by the oil and gas industry to contribute to the development of the country and its people in an even more meaningful way. By recognising and awarding the contributions of those who can do what we are not able to, in fields of work and studies that we, as oil and gas companies, have no expertise in, but which are imperative to ensure the holistic growth of the country.”
Meanwhile, The Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment was announced in conjunction with the 2011 Merdeka Award Presentation Ceremony by Prime Minister YAB Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak. The Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment is conferred annually to qualified Malaysians between the ages of 22 and 35, to engage in collaborative programmes at globally-renowned host instuitions and organisations. There is also an aspirational element to the Grant as it compels the recipients, who already enjoy a degree of recognition in their area of expertise, to strive towards even greater heights, while also serving as role models to the younger generation.