Swinburne alum, Dr Reagan Entigu Linton, shares his journey from a doctoral degree at Swinburne Sarawak to establishing a COVID-19 test lab in Malaysia.
What did you study at Swinburne and how did you come about designing a COVID-19 test lab?
I graduated in 2019 with a Doctor of Philosophy in Biology at the Swinburne Sarawak Campus and was recommended for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test lab job by a Swinburne lecturer.
I got the job because I have a molecular background, important in a PCR laboratory. Viruses have actually been my interest since my master's degree. My PhD was on nasopharyngeal cancer, with the Epstein Barr virus as one of the main causative factors, so I would not say that this job was far off from my interest.
I designed the test laboratory from the ground up and got it approved by the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH). Then operating at full capacity, I oversaw the daily stream of COVID-19 testing at the lab until just recently when I finished at the lab to pursue further research opportunities, as research is my real passion.
Can you share with us what you did as a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Lab Manager?
I monitored the results of the COVID-19 tests and managed the testing lab. In the first few months on the job, I had to work from dawn to dusk as it takes time to train staff.
The lab operates daily, and we worked until the early hours of the morning throughout the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s not easy to work as a lab manager for COVID-19 screening – it is a full-time commitment, as staff might need guidance or advice when analysing the results.
What were the most challenging aspects of the job?
It was very challenging to set up the COVID-19 lab from scratch. I was involved in designing the layout and the workflow, and the lab had to meet the requirements of the MOH in order to conduct COVID-19 screening.
Since patients need to have their COVID-19 test results before undergoing medical treatment, the pressure on us was high every day. Anything could go wrong during the PCR processes and delay the patient’s treatment.
It’s tough on the lab team because they deal with test samples that could be positive daily. In addition to that, they must wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) for long hours and it’s mentally and physically exhausting. I tried to ease the pressure and motivate them by acknowledging the hard work they put in.
What was the most satisfying part of your job?
Getting the COVID-19 lab approved by the MOH and gaining the trust of hospitals in Sarawak that our lab can provide a reliable service. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that we were contributing something meaningful to society, and it’s always a good feeling when clients andpatients acknowledge us for delivering the results.
Tell us about your PhD and why you chose to study at Swinburne.
My doctoral degree involved cancer research. It entailed screening various anti-cancer drugs developed for other major cancers, such as prostate, cervical and lung cancers, against nasopharyngeal carcinoma, or NPC. As NPC is unique amongst the Chinese and the indigenous Bidayuh community of Sarawak (in Borneo), there is a potential for discovering the reason why this particular type of cancer is prevalent among certain groups of people in the population.
Swinburne was my choice due to the expertise of my supervisors and the collaboration I could explore with other institutions. During my study, I worked closely with Universiti Malaya, the Institute for Medical Research, and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and this allowed me to work with and get to know other experts in the same field.
Dr Reagan Entigu Linton at his graduation in 2019.
What’s next for you following on from this?
I left the COVID-19 lab in October to pursue a career in research. My passion for research is very strong and alive. I am currently in the process of publishing a few papers with my previous co-supervisor. I am proud to have established the COVID-19 laboratory, being the first molecular lab for Gribbles Pathology (M) Sdn Bhd branch to attain a level which was approved by the MOH earlier this year, but I feel that I want to do more in research. For me, my real interest lies in discovering and testing new theories for real-world application. With borders now opening as COVID-19 starts to normalise, I am looking at other opportunities to pursue research, be it virology or cancer.