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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

25-year-old Malaysian PhD student gets global recognition for solving 'Superbug' infection

At the age when most of her peers are still trying to figure out their lives after college, 25-year-old Shu Lam is already being hailed by the international scientific community for her ground-breaking research that could change the way we treat infections.

The PhD student at Melbourne University has developed a star-shaped protein that can rip apart the walls of resistant superbugs – and kill them, a novel approach that surprisingly no one else has come close to discovering.

Her scientific breakthrough was published by the prestigious Nature Microbiology journal on 13 September, propellling her into the international spotlight with global media coverage of her work.

South China Morning Post spotlighted the Malaysian PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne in a recent news report describing her as the "star of the show".

In recent years, even our local health authorities have raised the warning about bacteria that are increasingly resistant to antibiotics, evolving into "superbugs" that can turn into epidemics to kill millions of people a year.

The Johorean lass together with a 10 person team of researchers at the Melbourne School of Engineering discovered that a chain of star-shaped polymer molecules can destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria without hurting healthy cells.

While the limelight is certainly glamorous, the reality of scientific research is hours and years slogging away peering into a microscope and overcoming plenty of dead ends as experiment after experiment failed, Shu Lam was quoted by media reports.

“I’ve spent the past three and a half years researching polymers and looking at how they can be used to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria,” or superbugs," Shu Lam told This Week in Asia.

“We think superbugs will cause around 10 million deaths per year by 2050,” Lam said that her team's work is aimed at building better alternatives to antibiotics, Fairfax Media reports.

"It kills bacteria in multiple ways," Ms Lam said. "We designed it to break the cell wall apart but we also found it can trigger the cell to kill itself."

While her talk of structurally nano-engineered anti-microbial peptide polymers (SNAPPS) might unerve the unitiated, Shu Lam also showed that she is like any other typical twentysomething in a recent interview with the press.

I've just watched the Korean movie called 'Train to Busan'. I also like trying new cuisines and exploring cafes here because the food culture's very strong," Shu Lam revealed the K-pop fan within the scientist exterior.

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