Malaysia may not be at the forefront of the proteomics field at the moment, but a recently opened Centre for Proteomics Research aims to change that.
The center is a collaboration between the Life Sciences Academy — a company founded last year by Michael Harvey, an analytical chemist and former Thermo Finnigan manager; and other businessmen and scientists — and the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia, a government research center. Located at FRIM’s Timber Technology Center in Kuala Lumpur, the proteomics center opened its doors in January.
The idea behind CPR is to provide training facilities for scientists in Malaysia, according to Harvey, the new center’s chief scientific officer. His wife, a professor at the University of Science Malaysia, peaked his interest. “I got involved in part because she was quite passionate about trying to find some way to do modern skills development,” in Malaysia, he said. “Malaysia, in the biotechnology scheme of things, is near the back of the pack.”
FRIM had no proteomics facility of its own at the time, but scientists there were interested in studying protein expression in forest and plantation organisms, among them tongkat ali, an herb that is part of “natural Viagra” preparations and has shown anti-cancer properties, Harvey said. Also, FRIM had access to “lines of funding not available to a private company,” he said, rendering the collaboration helpful to both sides.
Funding for the center comes from government grants and corporate partners, especially Proteome Systems, and totals more than RM 10 million ($2.6 million).
Harvey trained with Don Hunt at the University of Virginia as a graduate student and held various positions at Thermo, including Asia Regional Manager. He also consults for Shimadzu Biotech, Proteome Systems, and other instrument vendors in Southeast Asia.
The center, which occupies 4,500 square feet of space right now and has just signed a lease to double its space, currently employs seven researchers — four from LAS, and three from FRIM. It is equipped with the full suite of Proteome Systems’ ProteomIQ products: CPR has purchased a Shimadzu Biotech Axima CFR MALDI-TOF, a Thermo LCQ coupled to HPLC, an IBM server, and software. In addition, Proteome Systems donated a Micromass LCT LC-ESI-TOF mass spectrometer from its Sydney facility, along with electrophoresis instrumentation, gel processing robotics, as well as training material for courses. The center also has other instrumentation available for doing fractionation of natural products.
“The center has facilities that are rare in the country,” said Harvey. “There is one other MALDI instrument in the country.”
At CPR, Harvey offers 50 training courses to Malaysian scientists and students, and has held three courses so far. These cover both basic biology laboratory methods and various proteomics techniques.
In addition, the center offers contract research services and collaborations, not only for the analysis of proteins, but also the analysis of natural products by mass spectrometry. “The natural products work is a natural extension of a lot of work that’s going on at the Forest Research Institute,” Harvey said. For example, the center has embarked on a 30-month project to analyze proteins and natural products from crude extracts of various tropical forest organisms by mass spectrometry.
Over the last few months, LAS has been visiting government-owned companies and government research institutes to foster collaborations. The Rubber Research Institute, for example, plans to send samples to study allergenic proteins in latex, Harvey said.
But Harvey doesn’t intend to stop there. He hopes to create two other proteomics centers in Malaysia this year, and is currently trying to raise government funding for these. “We need a number of such facilities around the country” to explore Malaysia’s rich biology, he said. At present, he is exploring two facilities at universities that would focus on marine bioactive compounds.