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Discovery of Nipah virus a major breakthrough

时间:2009-09-16  来源:The Star   点击:

IT WAS service to the country and he wasn’t looking for fame or recognition. But Dr Tan Chong Tin who led the Nipah encephalitis investigation team from Universiti Malaya gained global acknowledgement for his work in discovering a new virus.
And last year, the team was recognised nationally when they were awarded joint recipients of the Merdeka Award in the health, science and technology category.
“We feel honoured to have contributed to the discovery. As human beings, it does feel good to have affirmation of our work – but we don’t look for it,” says Dr Tan humbly.
He also credits the actual discovery of the virus to Dr Chua Kaw Bing and says that “accepting the award was another way of recognising his discovery.”

Discovery of Nipah virus a major breakthrough

Proud team: Dr Tan (far right) and Dr Chua (second from right) together with other members of the Nipah encephalitis investigation team from Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine.
When asked how he feels about his team’s accomplishment, he says it was a good piece of scientific work.
“It is widely recognised but more importantly, it made a difference to many people’s lives. It also created real knowledge – not just locally, but internationally as well,” he says, adding that their discovery had a great impact when there was an outbreak of the Nipah virus in Bangladesh and India.
However, he adds that there is another dimension apart from the recognition of the work done.
“This kind of award is quite timely as the country needs to recognise good scientific work. There is a need to put science and research in a higher hierarchy in our local values. This sort of emphasis will augur well for the future of our society and for professionalism in general.”
Describing the early days of the outbreak, he says when the first cases surfaced in Ipoh, the health authorities thought it was Japanese encephalitis (JE) and health measures were taken accordingly.
However, it was not until cases appeared in Seremban three months later and patients were referred to the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) that it came to their attention. But the realisation that the virus was completely unknown was not a eureka moment.
“Actually, the discovery of the disease was a gradual thing. Within the first three to four days, we knew that there was something about the virus that was different from JE. The evidence came cumulatively, and as more came in, we did tests to confirm it.
“We gradually began to feel more comfortable with it as evidence told us we were on the right track.
“Final confirmation came within 10 to 12 days and final identificatioin was done in the United States,” he says.

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