Malaysian scientist wins Merdeka Award for cancer research, stresses importance of lifelong learning

Dr Ng is widely regarded as the Malaysian pioneer in breast cancer research and advanced radiology. — Pictures courtesy of Dr Ng Kwan Hoong
Dr Ng is widely regarded as the Malaysian pioneer in breast cancer research and advanced radiology. — Pictures courtesy of Dr Ng Kwan Hoong

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PETALING JAYA, Dec 29 — Malaysian scientist Dr Ng Kwan Hoong can add another feather to his cap after winning the prestigious Merdeka Award 2020 for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement.

Dr Ng, a senior professor at the University of Malaya’s (UM) Faculty of Medicine, is best known for his research in predicting breast cancer risk by measuring breast density in patients.

He told Malay Mail that he was humbled to join the list of eminent names that previously won the Merdeka Award for Outstanding Scholastic Achievement.

The list includes the late historian Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim, economics professor Rajah Rasiah, and engineering professor Masjuki Haji Hassan.

“It was definitely a pleasant surprise and a humbling experience when you look at the calibre of the past recipients (as they are) excellent scientists, engineers, and more who have contributed so much to Malaysia and are experts of their respective fields.

“I'm also grateful to the board of trustees and the various nomination committees of the Merdeka Award who selected me.

“It was a brief respite to the very challenging year we have had and the win capped my year off on a positive note,” said Dr Ng.

The prominent academic has had a long and illustrious career, having penned and co-authored over 250 papers in peer-reviewed journals.

He's also an accomplished speaker and has presented over 550 scientific papers with over 350 of them being invited lectures.

Despite his many achievements, Dr Ng believes there is still much for him to learn when it comes to advancing his work in medical physics.

The 66-year-old strongly advocates the philosophy of lifelong learning and often encourages his students to challenge themselves by stepping out of their comfort zones.

“When one stops learning, one stops living. The phrase ‘I am too old to learn’ is just a myth. In today's world, learning is even easier.

“We can now learn almost anything with access to online courses and YouTube.

“I always encourage my students and the younger generation to learn something new and challenging.”

Dr Ng was the first scientist from a developing country to receive the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award in 2018. — Picture courtesy of Dr Ng Kwan Hoong
Dr Ng was the first scientist from a developing country to receive the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award in 2018. — Picture courtesy of Dr Ng Kwan Hoong

Dr Ng previously brought global acclaim to Malaysia when he received the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Award in 2018 for his research in breast cancer risk assessment and radiation medicine.

Named after the famed Nobel Prize laureate and French-Polish scientist Marie Curie, the award is given out by the UK-based International Organisation for Medical Physics (IOMP), which represents 25,000 medical physicists worldwide.

Since then, Dr Ng has continued to immerse himself in his work and recently led a multidisciplinary team to create an online resource for new and emerging Covid-19 research.

Dr Ng said he was motivated to start the project to combat misinformation and the need for accurate, timely, and reliable data on the pandemic.

He added that scientists have a crucial part to play in the war against the virus and he hopes that the online resource can make key research materials succinct and accessible to those who need it.

“Scientists and technicians at their bench-tops and computers in their research laboratories are racing to find solutions, create new protective equipment, and ideally develop a vaccine.

“The project aims to provide reliable and timely web updates on the relevant published literature so the information is trusted, up-to-date, of sound science, and focused on what health professionals and scientists need.”

Dr Ng looks forward to training and passing on his experience to future generations. — Picture courtesy of Dr Ng Kwan Hoong
Dr Ng looks forward to training and passing on his experience to future generations. — Picture courtesy of Dr Ng Kwan Hoong

Dr Ng cites his love for humanity as the driving force in his work and he finds fulfilment in seeing his research improving the lives of those with cancer.

“Whatever that I have done and can still do to improve a diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of various diseases, I will be on board.

“It is very satisfying, rewarding, and joyful to see some of the research findings and techniques contributing to the healing process of the patients as well as the prevention and early diagnosis of diseases.”

The Merdeka Award was established by Petronas, ExxonMobil and Shell in 2007 to recognise individuals and organisations whose achievements have not only contributed to the nation’s growth but have also inspired greatness in the people of Malaysia.

The award is divided into five categories: Education and Community, Environment, Health, Science and Technology, Outstanding Scholastic Achievement, and Outstanding Contribution to the People of Malaysia.

This year, the National Cancer Council (Makna) won in the category of Education and Community while the South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) and The Lost Food Project founder Suzanne Mooney were named as recipients of the Environment and Outstanding Contribution to the People of Malaysia awards respectively.

A winner for the Health, Science, and Technology category was not named this year.

For more information on the Merdeka Award 2020, visit its official website.

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