Dr Cheong Sok Ching, 37, Group Leader, Oral Cancer Research Team, Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF) & Adjunct Professor, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Malaya (UM)
Great people, as history has proven, often take a cue from other great people.
In Dr Cheong Sok Ching’s case, meeting two inspiring mentors during her PhD studies, convinced her to pursue her passion for medical research, though not many people (at that time) in Malaysia were doing.
“With their mentoring and support, I was able to build a career in cancer research.”
At CARIF, Dr Cheong focuses on mouth cancer, often dubbed an “Asian cancer” as 70% of these cancers occur in Asia. In Malaysia, mouth cancer is the second most common cause of death in males due to cancer in public hospitals.
As the lack of understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying this cancer has hindered the development of effective drugs for treatment - unlike other cancers - Dr Cheong believes we need a critical mass of people in cancer research to combat the disease. Her team works with both local and international collaborators to train as many scientists as possible in this field.
She shares happily, “One such workshop, which enabled South East Asia researchers to learn techniques at a fraction of the cost, if they had to travel to the west, has encouraged them to start their own research teams in their home country and start contributing to the body of knowledge in mouth cancer.”
For their contribution in the development of novel therapeutics and laboratory models for mouth cancer in the form of cell lines, her team has won several awards including the Norman-Rowe Award 2005, Loreal for Women in Science Award 2008), several Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) fellowships and the American Association for Cancer Research Award.
Dr Cheong is grateful to her parents, who instilled the importance of doing her best in whatever she chose to do. “I realised that I can make things happen if I put my mind to it. We should never underestimate our own ability, we may not be able to do everything, but indeed, we can do something.”
While hard work is important to excel, she says that working hard on your own cannot take you very far. “I attribute my success to being able to engage and work with people with similar aspirations as we can draw on each other’s strengths. I believe in sharing knowledge without boundaries.”
Is she confident of finding the cure for mouth cancer? “At this point I am not sure if I can say “yes” in my lifetime but by setting the path and interacting with the young and budding scientists, I can surely say that someone will be passing on the torch until we do.”
Nuraizah Shamsul Baharin, 40, owner and managing director of Madcat World.
By any measure, Nuraizah Shamsul Baharin has done extremely well.
Madcat World, the company she heads which aims to transform Malaysia into a hub for mobile content, has won a string of accolades including awards from ITEX 2010, 9th Invention & Innovation Awards 2010, represented Malaysia in 2010 Mobile Premier Awards in Barcelona and 2011 MEFFYS Awards in France and winner of the MSC Mobile Interactive Content Competition 2007 and APICTA Awards 2007.
But Nuraizah believes success is not about the individual, and this shows in her willingness to share, collaborate and mentor others.
“The pie is big enough for competitors to collaborate and work together. We need new people and new ideas to seed and generate the growth in mobile content and mobile industry,” she asserts.
With this spirit in mind, she proactively helps young and new entrepreneurs to market their ideas and content through MADCAT’s channels.
Since 2009, her team managed the Mobile Content Challenge where they scout for new ideas in universities and provide guidance in commercializing these ideas. “In 2010, we helped five teams become entrepreneurs,” she shares excitedly.
Nuraizah is also an EXCO member in WENA (Bumiputera Women Entrepreneur Network Association), which helps women build business networks, and a mentor with the Cradle Investment Program, where good ideas get the funding to help with the development of a prototype.
Though girls are leading the scholastic achievements in colleges and universities, they lack the courage and role models to be entrepreneurs, she points out. “Becoming an entrepreneur is a very difficult step for graduates to take and goes against what parents advocate for their children, unless we can create pathways that make it simpler – this includes having mentors and associations that help entrepreneurs.”
She points out, “We are lucky to be in Malaysia – anyone can be an entrepreneur here, regardless of your age, ethnicity and social status. The consumers and corporate world are very supportive of entrepreneurs and being a woman gives you an added advantage since women entrepreneurs are generally seen as honest and reliable people!”
At her alma mater Bukit Bintang Girls School, it was drilled into her head that young women could make a significant difference in our society. She still takes this to heart: “I’ve always believed that if you want to make a difference or feel that things could be done better, then step up and do it, don’t just complain!”
Dr Joean Oon, 41, Principal of the Naturopathic Family Care Centre; Penang Lecturer for the International Chinese Cancer Prevention Society
Popularly known as the Garbage Enzyme Lady, Dr Joean Oon believes we can reduce our carbon footprint by converting our kitchen waste into an organic solution that, when poured into drains and sewer systems, will help cleanse the rivers and oceans of toxins.
Produced by the simple fermentation of fresh vegetable and/or fruit skin waste, brown sugar and water, the production of garbage enzyme generates ground-level Ozone (O3), which reduces the earth’s temperature by releasing the heat trapped by the heavy metal in the clouds, explains Dr Joean. The fermentation also produces nitrates that can help enhance the fertility of the soil. By not throwing away your kitchen wastes, you will also help to reduce trash and reduce landfills.
“If every household turns its garbage into enzyme, we can protect our ozone, live in a smog-free environment and eat food free from toxins.”
She learnt this solution from Dr Rosukon Poompavong, an alternative medicine practitioner in Thailand, who has been awarded outstanding farmer by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2003.
Since then, Dr Joean has run hundreds of garbage enzyme roadshows across Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and India, where they conduct talks and give away free bottles of enzyme. A classic example of someone who works within her own means to champion her beliefs without expectations of monetary reward, she pays for her own expenses.
“People tell me I am so generous to do that,” she admits. “But to me, it's like a holiday, and I ask them back, don't you buy your own flight tickets to go on a holiday? Don't you enjoy it? It's the same with me. I enjoy doing this.”
The response was viral, with overwhelming support from the man on the street, to even local governments - one of Dr Joean’s staunchest advocates is the Sibu municipality. At least one fruit plantation has reportedly increased their yield by replacing commercial pesticides and fertilisers with garbage enzymes, while some restaurants have reduced their operating costs by using garbage enzymes as cleaning agents.
“The best evidence is to try it out,” says Dr Joean. “If it cleans well, if your vegetables taste great after soaking in it, if your plants grow well after you use it as fertilizers, then it's good. You're saving money, you're reducing your wastes, and it's so easy to make.”
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