Research clusters

Given the successes of the School’s research strategies, and particularly the inbuilt support for new researchers, JCSMHS continues to develop its research under the same ethos. New research clusters are being nurtured to harness the capabilities of the staff in areas different from the research strengths mentioned earlier. New research leaders have been identified with the potential to create critical mass and provide support in the following broad areas of research:

Psychology, health and wellbeing  

The psychology, health, and well-being research cluster’s core mission is to use scientific methods to understand human behaviour and cognition while applying this knowledge towards the improvement of well-being. By bringing together scholars from the fields of psychology, social science, health care, and business, we take a multidisciplinary approach to solving society’s important challenges as well as training the next generation of scientists. We strive to conduct theoretically innovative and important research while continually keeping an eye towards the practical applications and benefits to society of our work.

Some areas in which we are currently conducting research are: Autism and sleep disorders, the influence of natural and urban environments on functioning and well-being, gambling and drug addiction, health beliefs and practices relating to the prevention of diabetes and other chronic diseases, and the influence of culture and economic development on the nature of the family and the experience of well-being. We are a significant part of the recently established campus research platform called Neurobusiness Behavioural Laboratory and contributing to research particularly looking at the neural activities related to business-related behaviour and thinking processes such as decision making under pressure and uncertainty, memory for advertisement, and product selections.

Oncology and therapeutics

Curcumin analogues

Curcumin plays an important role in many integrated signaling pathways controling cancer development such as apoptosis, proliferation, tumor promotion, metastases, angiogenesis, inflammation and immortality. Curcumin was demonstrated to have a wide spectrum of pharmacological properties but demonstrates poor bioavailability. Based on the biological and structural characteristics, curcumin can be used as a starting point to design and develop a wide variety of curcumin analogues with similar safety profile, but increased activity and solubility. Currently we are investigating diarylpenatnoids, chemically synthesized synthetic analogues of curcumin, for their anticancer properties. Cancer cell lines such as colorectal, cervical and prostate will be used as models to understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms responsible for their antitumor activity. Targeting these tumorigenic mechanisms may lead to future development of novel anti-cancer therapeutic drugs.

Snake venom

Treatment modalities for cancer such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation show limited success, and furthermore, remove or destroy normal cells along with cancer cells. The search for a cure for cancer has led to the discovery of toxins as naturally occurring cytotoxic compounds that can be potential therapeutic drugs in the treatment of cancer. It has been suggested that the venom of snakes may provide an alternative treatment for cancer. The snake venom consists of a complex mixture of several toxic proteins and enzymes with a wide spectrum of biological activities that may have anticancer properties. In the proposed study, proteins in the venom of Malaysian arboreal viper will be isolated and purified and tested for the cytotoxic activity and growth inhibiton of the malignant cells.  This study can be further explored to understand the various mechanisms involved in the antitumor activity. The research can provide clues for development of anti-cancer drugs.

Nanomedicine

Gene therapy through intracellular delivery of a functional gene or a gene-silencing element is a promising approach to treat critical diseases. The ability of synthetic small interfering RNA (siRNA) to effectively silence genes in vitro and in vivo, has made them particularly well suited as a drug therapeutic. However, since naked siRNA is unable to passively diffuse through cellular membranes, delivery of siRNA remains the major hurdle to fully exploit the potential of siRNA technology. pH-sensitive carbonate apatite has recently been developed as an efficient tool to deliver siRNA into the mammalian cells by virtue of its high affinity interaction with the siRNA and the desirable size distribution of the resulting siRNA-apatite complex for effective cellular endocytosis. Moreover, following internalization by cells, siRNA has been found to escape from the endosomes in a time-dependent manner and finally, silenced reporter genes at a lower doses than commercially available lipofectamine. Knockdown of cyclin B1 gene with only 10 nM of siRNA delivered by carbonate apatite has resulted in the significant death of cancer cells. Delivery of siRNA against PLC-gamma-2 (PLCG2) and calmodulin 1 (CALM1) genes has led to the sensitization of a human cervical cancer cell line to doxorubicin depending on the doses of the drug. Thus, the new method of siRNA delivery is highly promising for pre-clinical and clinical cancer therapy.

Therapeutics and drug discovery from natural products and bioactive compounds  

Organic compounds from terrestrial and marine sources have extensive past and present use in the treatment of many diseases and serve as compounds of interest both in their natural form and as templates for synthetic modification. New drugs are launched on the market originating from terrestrial plants, terrestrial microorganisms, marine organisms, and terrestrial vertebrates and invertebrates.

The main aim of this Research Cluster is to develop basic and applied multidisciplinary research to discover bioactive natural products from plants, animals and microbials sources that may serve as lead compounds for the development of new pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals.