Three inspiring Malaysian women scientist awarded L’OréalUNESCO Fellowship

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THE L’ORÉAL FOUNDATION, is celebrating the achievements of three distinguished women scientists in Malaysia by awarding them its prestigious L’Oréal UNESCO Fellowship for Women in Science (FWIS). In recognition of their groundbreaking research efforts, the For Women in Science also award these outstanding women with RM30,000 grant money to help fund their projects. The projects, which pushes the boundaries of science, includes research into more accurate cancer risk prediction, obesity prevention study, and material engineering.

Since its inception, over RM1,000,000 in grant has been awarded to more than 40 women scientists in recognition of their achievement in science.

This year, L’Oréal UNESCO has selected Shivaani Mariapun from the University of Nottingham Malaysia, for her research on mammographic density and breast cancer risk in Asian women. As the Malaysian breast cancer mortality rate is 50 percent higher than the global rate, Shivaani’s work to develop a more accurate risk prediction model and formulate an effective screening strategy for early detection could potentially save millions of lives. “The risk of developing breast cancer is not equal in all women. Providing the same screening recommendation to all women is, therefore, an inefficient way to use our limited resources. By tailoring screening according to risk profiles, we may detect cancers earlier and avoid unnecessary anxiety and distress in women who may not benefit from regular screening,” explains Shivaani.

Meanwhile, another winner this year, Dr. Lim Way Foong of University Sains Malaysia, through her research is aiming to develop an alternative version of LED light. According to Dr Lim, artificial lighting from the typical LED emits harmful blue light, and overexposure to this light is a health hazard. While creating a lighting without the blue light radiation is possible, with the violet light, the method still requires plenty of testing and study, to determine the wavelength that are suitable for the human eyes.

In addition to Shivaani and Dr Lim, L’Oréal-UNESCO also honors Dr. Wan Iryani Wan Ismail from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, for her exceptional research on obesity control using honey. Dr. Wan Iryani’s work essentially centers on insulin signaling pathways – a critical function of human metabolic activity. A defective metabolic system is often the root cause of many noncommunicable diseases; such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular complications. Dr Wan Iryani’s study has shown that consumption of pure, unadulterated honey, has shown to reduce excess weight gain as well as lower obesity biomarkers in the animal model.

The award ceremony, which was held today at W Hotel, Kuala Lumpur was graced by Princess of Selangor, Yang Amat Mulia Tengku Datin Paduka Setia Zatashah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah. As a national women empowerment icon, Tengku Zatashah has worked tirelessly with many agencies – both government and non – to push for the betterment and advancement of women. She was conferred the highest French order of merit, Chevalier de le Legion d’Honneur in 2017 for her activism, advocacy and philanthropic work.

The award was presented to the winners by Deputy Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment, and Climate Change (MESTECC), Yang Berhormat Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis. Also in attendance were French Ambassador to Malaysia, His Excellency, Mr. Frédéric Laplanche, Managing Director of L’Oréal Malaysia and Singapore, Malek Bekdache, and Secretary-General of Malaysian Commission for UNESCO, Mohammad Sanusi Abdul Karim.

In congratulating the winners, Bekdache, said: “Hopefully, with this award, we can encourage women scientists to step up and show the world what they are capable of and how their ideas and innovativeness can help set the path for a brighter and more sustainable future. At the same time, we also hope that through this prestigious award, we help inspire the next generation of scientists and more importantly, young girls – and even young boys – to choose science as their career.”

The Loreal-UNESCO For Women in Science was first awarded in 2006 to recognise and promote the works and contributions of women scientists in Malaysia. Globally, women are massively underrepresented in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to a UNESCO report, women only make up about 28 percent of researchers worldwide, and only 3 percent of Nobel Prizes in the sciences has been awarded to women thus far.

Malaysia meanwhile has come a long way in regards to addressing the gender gap in the field of science as the country seeks to transform itself into a knowledge-based economy and a developed nation. While there are marked improvements in the number of female students pursuing science subjects in schools, over the years, there is still more work to be done to break the ‘glass ceiling’ that exists in the country’s workforce. And L’Oréal is committed to helping make that breakthrough.

With the ultimate goal of breaking down barriers that impede women scientist from pursuing careers in science globally, the L’Oréal-UNESCO FWIS represent over 9,500 applicants spanning 53 nationals and regional programs in 177 countries, each year. The program also has the support of over 50 prestigious partners that are among the highest scientific authorities in their respective countries.