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The people behind SMART CAMP: Rashidah Binte Othman, Senior Research Engineer

Meet Rashidah, a Senior Research Engineer at SMART's Critical Analytics for Manufacturing Personalized-medicine interdisciplinary research group (IRG). Rashidah’s research focuses on unlocking the potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) by exploring various culture conditions and treatments to enhance their growth and immune-modulating abilities. MSCs are crucial in regenerative medicine as they can be converted into different cell types, such as bone, cartilage, and fat cells, enabling the repair and replacement of damaged tissues. Through meticulous analysis, Rashidah aims to optimise MSCs for medical applications, contributing to advancements in regenerative medicine.

Rashidah's motivation stems from a personal commitment to scientific discovery and the impact her work can have on patients' lives. Her interest in the field was sparked by her grandmother's battle with nasal cancer when she was 16, which inspired her to pursue cancer treatments through scientific research. Helping people and making a real difference in their lives has always been important to her, fueling her goal to cure cancer and underscoring her dedication to her work. Driven by this personal passion for scientific discovery, Rashidah collaborates closely with her colleagues to translate research findings into practical solutions. Together, they strive to revolutionise healthcare by developing innovative treatments and combating diseases at their core.

1. What do you do at SMART CAMP?

At SMART CAMP, my primary role involves managing the MSC bank. This critical function involves a comprehensive analysis and characterisation of MSCs derived from diverse sources. Each sample undergoes rigorous quality control measures to ensure consistent and reliable properties. Through this meticulous profiling, we've established a robust MSC bank that serves as a valuable resource for researchers. Our primary objective is to facilitate research progress by providing investigators with standardised, high-quality MSC samples, enabling them to explore the therapeutic potential of MSC-based therapies.

2. How did you first become interested in your field of work, and what motivated you to pursue it as a career then?

My interest in this field was ignited at a young age when my grandmother battled nasal cancer. Witnessing her experience firsthand motivated me to pursue scientific research focused on cancer treatments. Deeply immersed in the advancements of biotechnology and oncology and driven by a desire to make a tangible impact on the lives of cancer patients, I pursued a degree in biotechnology, specialising in MSC-based therapies.

3. What is the biggest motivation that keeps you going at work, especially during hard/challenging times?

My motivation during tough times comes from a commitment to personal growth and development, viewing challenges as opportunities to enhance my skills and resilience. Supported by colleagues and mentors, I'm reminded that I'm not alone in this journey. Additionally, I'm fueled by the broader purpose and the significant impact my efforts can have on society, particularly the potential for our work at CAMP to save or improve lives. This sense of purpose keeps me going during challenging times, along with the inspiration I draw from other individuals who persevere through adversity. I also believe in continuous improvement and learning throughout my professional journey, embracing the philosophy of "progress, not perfection".

4. How does your work benefit the society/research communities?

By carefully studying stem cells (MSCs) from different sources, we contribute to advancements in regenerative medicine research. We maintain a large collection of high-quality MSCs, which provides researchers with a reliable source for their cutting-edge studies. This helps us learn more about how these cells work and develop new treatments for patients, ultimately improving healthcare outcomes.

5. Could you share any highlights or important projects/milestones that you have worked on/achieved at SMART(insert IRG if applicable)?

A significant project milestone was achieved with the publication of our research, 'Expansion of human bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stromal cells with enhanced immunomodulatory properties.' This study explored how different culture conditions and cytokine treatments affect the growth and ability of MSCs to regulate the immune system. Our findings provide valuable insights for optimising MSC expansion and increasing their potential for treatments related to immune regulation. This has broad implications for regenerative medicine and beyond.

6. Balancing work and personal life can be challenging. What are your current hobbies/guilty pleasures (e.g., reading books, watching TV series/movies, playing sports) that you use to relax and recharge?

Outside of work, I enjoy a variety of leisure activities. Whether getting lost in a captivating book, staying active with a spin class, going for a run in nature, or simply enjoying music at home or at a concert, these pursuits allow me to de-stress and recharge. These self-care activities ensure I return to work feeling refreshed and prepared to tackle any new challenge that may arise.

7. Can you share with us something that would surprise us, or that you think is unique about you?

I’ve recently rekindled a childhood love for skateboarding, and I decided to channel my youth and pick up a board again. It wasn't easy at first, but I stuck with it and enjoyed learning new moves and overcoming hurdles. Skateboarding is more than just a hobby now – it's a way for me to express myself and explore new things. It proves you're never too old to follow your passions!

8. What advice would you give to someone aspiring to enter a similar role or field of work?

For those aspiring to enter a similar role or field of work,  I would advise you to start by getting involved in research projects early on and network with others in the field to find opportunities. Staying up-to-date on new technologies is crucial. Remember, persistence is key to overcoming challenges. Finally, finding a mentor can give you valuable advice and support on your research path.

9.. What would you be doing if you were not working as a researcher in CAMP?

If I wasn’t working in the field of research, I might have pursued a career in healthcare, as a nurse or a physician assistant. Helping people and making a real difference in their lives has always been important to me, and a career in healthcare would definitely fit with those goals.


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