An alumna of Tunku Kurshiah College, this is Dr Fatimah’s journey from INTEC to studying medicine in Russia, to spearheading the main molecular genetics laboratory in Malaysia
Imagine this; you go to the doctor’s office for an ailment – perhaps a simple complaint of stomachache, or even something more complicated that would qualify as a medical mystery.
The doctor draws up your whole genetic makeup – a unique set of biologically-coded information that makes you who you are, what diseases you’re prone to, what medicine suits you best.
We are living in the frontier of personalised medicine – where modern science can provide you with tailor-made solutions. Gone were the days where medicine takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
This ground breaking technology would change the landscape of patient care and even society as a whole.
The luminous journey of a geneticist
Meet Dr Fatimah Azman, one of the fourteen genetic pathologists in Malaysia. This humble, unassuming character holds a prominent post as the head of molecular genetics of the genetic laboratory of Hospital Tunku Azizah located.
Being a product of Tunku Kurshiah College (TKC) – a prestigious all-girls boarding school in Negeri Sembilan, Dr Fatimah has set a strong academic foundation as she was a straight A1 student in her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) in 2003.
With that astounding achievement, she was granted a scholarship from JPA to pursue medicine at Privolzhsky Research Medical University (Formerly known as Nizhny Novgorod State Medical Academy) in Russia.
She underwent a preparatory course for 3 months at INTEC Education College – a pre-university academy. There, she undertook the challenging task of learning the Russian language before studying abroad for six years.
Dr Fatimah then completed two years of compulsory training as a house officer in Hospital Tuanku Ja’afar, Seremban after graduating medical school. She went on to study and complete her Masters in Genetic Pathology at the Human Genome Centre, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
She certainly embodies the spirit of women in Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) as she leads the main molecular genetics laboratory of Hospital Tunku Azizah – the national referral centre that caters to genetic testing.
What is a genetic pathologist?
A genetic pathologist is a medical specialist who analyses results of genetic tests, and then apply clinical reasoning of these data to the patient’s clinical context.
Dr Fatimah, holds a consultative role in genetic pathology and co-manages patients with primary physicians. She advises clinicians on which tests are appropriate and beneficial to help guide the treatment process.
To carry this task well, she must be proficient in the state-of-the-art genomic molecular testing using artificial intelligence. While delving into the ultra-modern technology, she must also be perceptive in navigating cost effectiveness of the tests offered.
The huge impact of a single small gene
As the realisation of precision medicine grows, targeted gene sequencing is a game-changer in the detection and treatment of diseases. These conditions include cancer and genetic disorders.
The aforementioned maladies pose a significant threat as in 2020, cancer causes 10 million deaths worldwide. The leading cancers recorded in Malaysia are breast, lung and rectal cancer. Unfortunately, considerable number of patients reach advanced stages, succumbing to the illnesses without undergoing genetic testing. This missed opportunity for targeted therapy hampers the potential enhancement of overall survivability.
Thus, the accessibility to genetic screening and counselling as well as targeted therapy for high-risk individuals are important for patients and their families to make important life-changing decisions that will affect their quality of life.
Malaysia needs more geneticists
Since 1985, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that the provision of clinical care requires adequate access to quality laboratory genetic support.
With this field being relatively new in Malaysia, yet rapidly gaining momentum, Dr Fatimah implores to the young inquisitive minds out there to consider the world of genomics.
A critical field, geneticists help people with genetic disadvantages to have better quality of life. They are constantly making a difference in patient treatment and survival.
The frontier of novo-medicine; the future has arrived.
The Human Genome Project started out in 1990 and took a decade and 3 billion dollars to be completed. Today, for a mere fraction of that amount, one can get access to genetic testing without an astronomical sum. Soon we will live that reality of having one’s genetic makeup factored in together with routine laboratory investigations to navigate through treatment options.