Looking ahead to becoming a leading regional neuroscience centre

Prof Tey with his team of researchers analysing the results from the chromatographic purification process – which purifies virus-like particles.

When the Malaysia Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MyMAP) project first kicked off less than two years ago, few would have envisioned the rapid rate at which it would develop. Today, the project has seen several major discoveries and is poised to become a regional platform for testing and developing drug candidates for neurological diseases, using compounds from plants.

MyMAP is a project jointly helmed by Monash University’s Brain Research Institute (BRIMS) and Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM), a governmental body under the Prime Minister’s Office.

“With AIM’s strong support over the last two years, MyMAP has expanded to become a Drug Discovery Platform which is open to the industry and other researchers, who can bring their natural compounds to us and analyse it here,” said Professor Ishwar Parhar, a leading regional neuroscientist who is also the Director of Brain Research Institute (BRIMS) and Head of Neuroscience at Monash University Malaysia.

“Alternatively, researchers or research companies can pass us their compounds as we have the resources and capability to analyse these compounds for them. This project has now become a platform that can be open up for others.”

Under the MyMAP project, researchers set out to use compounds from local plants to determine their potential to treat six different areas of neurological disorders, namely sleep disorders, neurotoxicity and neuroprotection, reproductive aging, neurodegeneration, depression and anxiety, as well as addiction.

The work of the researchers has extended far and beyond their original goals in the past two years, said Prof Ishwar.

“We have submitted patents ahead of what we expected to deliver, and we are a year ahead of time,” he said.

While the cooperation with AIMS is due to come to an end by the end of 2014, Prof Ishwar said the project was far from ending as he was confident of obtaining the necessary funding from other bodies to continue the work that has been done at MyMAP.

“We are now in the last phase, in terms of funding from AIMS, and we really appreciate what AIMS has done for us in helping to set up this platform.

“We are now looking at a new chapter at MyMAP and moving forward with what is already achieved, and working at doing even more,” he said.

Prof Ishwar expressed optimism that MyMAP and BRIMS would be leaders in the area of neuroscience, saying that the quality of research done by the MyMAP team has truly set it apart.

“There are very few neuroscience labs in this region, and even less so of those working on neuro-psychiatric disorders. The fact that we are spearheading a lot of research in these areas and working on using plant compounds for drug use makes us the frontrunners,” he said.

“In addition to that, we have a very good support system at Monash University as there are very good facilities and talent here.”

Prof Ishwar said of late, several universities from Thailand have been sending students to utilise the equipment and services at BRIMS, lending credence to the fact that MyMAP and BRIMS will soon be a leading international neuroscience centre.