Dr Shanice Mah Chui Yan has been named a Merdeka Award recipient, honouring outstanding Malaysian students in South Australia for their academic achievements and efforts to promote cooperation between the two countries.
She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Adelaide, based at the Prostate Cancer Research Group at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).
Conferred a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), her research is focused on studying the roles of lipid metabolism in prostate cancer development and disease progression.
The research aims to discover ways to prevent cancer cells from using the fats they rely on as fuel by blocking the protein or enzyme that digests the fat, thereby overloading the cells with fat and killing them.
This work has led to developing the world’s first therapeutic drug that targets this enzyme. If this process proves successful, it may one day be developed into a cancer drug.
“Cancer is a very smart disease. It’s not that easy to eradicate it,” said Mah.
One could argue that she is motivated by a passion for science, but one can’t help but think that deep down, Mah is trying to figure out losing her father to cancer all those years ago.
Her father, who was 42, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer when she was 13 years old.
Her father had been feeling ill for the past week, which was the only sign of his illness. He’d been feeling nauseous and had lost weight. He’d also lost his appetite and been suffering from a stomachache.
They travelled to Singapore for her father’s chemotherapy treatment for the next six months. She witnessed her father’s cancer treatment. She saw him being pricked with needles and had tubes protruding from his body.
Her father died soon after. She is no stranger to the suffering of fighting cancer and wants to understand more about the disease and how to stop it. She persevered in the face of adversity and set her sights on studying abroad.
Whilst undergoing her foundation year at Sunway College, she attended a presentation on studying at the University of Adelaide. Her choice was made and sights set. She proceeded to study the first year of her undergraduate degree at Taylor’s University before articulating into a degree at the University of Adelaide.
Mah received a partial scholarship from the University of Adelaide for her undergraduate degree. She was later offered a full scholarship to pursue a PhD in Medicine, in prostate cancer research.
As she soldiers on in the fight to find the cure for cancer, she dedicates her work to the man who gave her life but was gone too soon.