Professor Dato’ Dr Lam Sai Kit, was born in Ipoh, Perak on June 23, 1938. He received his early education at the Anglo Chinese School in Ipoh where his proficiency in math and science was apparent from an early age – a glimmer perhaps of the illustrious future that was to come. He received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Western Australia, and subsequently a Master of Science from the University of Queensland. It was at the University of Queensland, in 1963, where he was initially introduced to medical research. Later, while pursuing his Doctorate from the Australian National University his PhD research on viruses and wildlife further stimulated his interest in the field of epidemiology.
In 1966, even before completing his PhD, Professor Lam was offered a position as a virologist at the new Faculty of Medicine at University of Malaya. Tasked with the responsibility of starting a new diagnostic unit from scratch Professor Lam overcame many challenges to make it the second functioning viral lab after the Institute of Medical Research. He says: “With lots of patience and whatever funds we could raise, we managed to build up the lab as well as a dedicated team.”
In the years following, Professor Lam focused on new tools to diagnose viral infections. He initiated rapid viral diagnosis via an in-house ELISA technique which allowed the dengue virus to be diagnosed within the same day. These achievements led the Department being designated a WHO National Center for Rapid Viral Diagnosis in 1980 and a two year secondment in Geneva for Professor Lam. He says: “Working for WHO opened my eyes. Instead of thinking of national or even regional health issues, I started to think of global health issues.”
Through the four decades of his academic career, Professor Lam has advanced the frontier of knowledge in virology in Malaysia as well as the Asia Pacific region. The Asia Pacific Society for Medical Virology which he founded in 1982 still has over 600 members from over 40 countries. His fundamental research has led to the publications of over 240 papers in some of the world’s top journals. The impact of this scholarly work has also contributed to disease management and disease spread. He says: “To be able to contribute towards the betterment of society through one’s profession provides immeasurable joy and a sense of fulfillment.”
Professor Lam’s research on the vector-borne disease, dengue, is recognised worldwide and has culminated in many awards, both nationally and internationally. Based on his outstanding contribution, he was awarded the Knight of the National Order of Merit, France (April 2006), one of the most prestigious honours conferred by the French Government, for his prominent role in medical research and scientific cooperation. Professor Lam also received the Prince Mahidol Award for Public Health from the King of Thailand in 2001.
Professor Lam has been actively involved in the WHO Programme on Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) since 1990. Some of the EID discoveries by his team include:
- The discovery of EV71 and echovirus 7 viruses as etiological agents of fatal encephalitis during outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease which have contributed to the control of the spread of this disease.
- The discovery of chikungunya virus as a cause of polyarthritis in Malaysia was first made by his team and led to the control of the outbreak through vector control measures.
- The finding of a Hantavirus-like infection in Malaysia for the first time among rodents in Port Klang, and its possible association with renal diseases.
- The initiation of surveillance for some of the most important viral infections in the country (rotavirus diarrhea, human influenza, respiratory syncytial virus in young children, monitoring of hand-foot-mouth disease, etc.)
- As a member of the Nipah Encephalitis Investigating Team, University of Malaya, and recipient of the Merdeka Award in 2008, Prof Lam was involved in the discovery of the Nipah virus as a cause of viral encephalitis among pig farmers in the country. The discovery resulted in containing the outbreak.
His 40 years of research into dengue, a global public health problem in developing countries, has led to the reduction of morbidity and mortality of this disease. The advancement of knowledge includes the understanding of the immunopathogenesis of the disease, early diagnosis and early medical intervention, and an early warning system, which helps in predicting severe dengue outbreaks.
Professor Lam has also helped promote rapid viral diagnosis for respiratory viral diseases, diarrhoeal diseases, neurological infections, and congenital infections by conducting technical workshops in various countries including Thailand, Myanmar, Mexico and in Africa. This has a significant impact on disease management and prevention of disease spread.
He has published over 240 scientific papers of which 78 are in ISI-listed journals with a total citation of 3,178 times and a H-index of 27. The H or Hirsch Index is an established internationally-recognised index that measures both the productivity and impact of the published work of a scholar. The index is based on the set of the scholar's most cited papers and the number of citations that he/she has received in other publications.
Professor Lam currently serves as Emeritus Professor and High Impact Research Consultant at University of Malaya (UM). He is tasked with managing the Ministry of Education’s special allocation given out to high impact research projects.
Prof Lam is among the most influential figures in medical virology in South East Asia. His research in dengue is recognised worldwide as well as by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In recent years, his involvement in emerging diseases has led to the discovery of new viruses in the region, and the isolation of the Nipah virus has been internationally recognised.
LEFT: The conferment of the Dato’ Paduka Mahkota Perak by the Sultan of Perak, 2002
RIGHT: The conferment of Emeritus Professor by Universiti Malaya, 2004
“The greatest sense of achievement is to see the younger generation benefitting from one’s passion, especially in the pursuit of scientific knowledge,” he says.
As a scholar, Professor Lam has advanced the frontier of knowledge in virology in Malaysia as well as in the Asia Pacific region. His relentless pursuit of excellence in research and contribution to the field of medical virology is a reflection of the innovative and pioneering Spirit of Merdeka.