Malaysian Scientist Wins the ‘Nobel Prize for Cancer Research’ With Breakthrough in Treatment

Serena Nik-Zainal

UK-based Malaysian scientist Dr. Serena Nik-Zainal was given the Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 for her work in advancing cancer genome interpretation.

Originally also known as the “Nobel Prize for Cancer Research,” the award was given to Dr. Nik-Zainal along with her collaborators Dr. Paul Calleja and Dr. Ignacio Medina from the University of Cambridge at the University of Bern in Switzerland on Friday.

According to Dr. Nik-Zainal, her social media accounts have been swamped with congratulatory messages from people including fellow Malaysians since news of the award emerged.

“My WhatsApp, FB & Twitter accounts have exploded! Please forgive delayed responses!” she tweeted.

“Altho’ I am going to pick up this #JosefSteiner award, it represents collective effort, laughter, tears, enthusiasm, passion, energy, hard work from my wonderful #TEAM #WishUWereWithMe.” 

She also shared several photos of her colleagues from the University of Cambridge.

UK-based Malaysian scientist Dr. Serena Nik-Zainal was given the Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 for her work in advancing cancer genome interpretation.

The award ceremony also included a presentation of their work, titled “Accelerating holistic cancer genome interpretation towards the clinic.”

Based on their research, mutations in cancer tumors can be analyzed using new bioinformatic methods. This allows for new approaches to targeted therapies. 


Dr. Nik-Zainal, who is also the principal investigator at the university’s Department of Medical Genetics, noted that the powerful combination of computational analytics and experimental insights helped to drive the development of clinical computational tools to a more effective interpretation of whole cancer genomes.

“The rate-limiting step in cancer genomics today is not the ability to perform sequencing,” she said in an article posted on the university’s official homepage.

“It is the expertise in performing downstream analysis and making a clinically-useful interpretation, that remains the hurdle between genomic technology and the clinical context.” 

The Malaysian government and its Cabinet joined those in Malaysia who expressed appreciation for Dr. Nik-Zainal’s achievement. 

“Congratulations to Dr. Serena Nik-Zainal who has been awarded the Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 from the University of Cambridge for her research on cancer genome interpretation.

“She is the daughter of renown medical icon Datuk Dr. Nik Zainal Abidin Nik Abdul Rahman who was at the forefront of Malaysia’s first cardiology department,” Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail posted on Facebook.

The post referenced the scientist’s deceased father, Dr. Nik Zainal, who was a well-known cardiologist and part of the team to perform the first coronary by-pass surgery in the country on October 22, 1982.

“Dr. Serena Nik-Zainal has shown that when one has the commitment and drive for excellence, the sky’s the limit. Profound congrats to Serena for winning the Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Prize 2019 and doing Malaysia extremely proud! #MEA,” Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali wrote on his Facebook post.

Featured Image via University of Iceland Biomedical Center

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