Associate Professor Dr. Solahuddin Jauhari Arief


Associate Professor Dr. Solachuddin Jauhari Arief
Deputy Dean (Research and Postgraduate)
Kulliyah of Dentistry International Islamic University Malaysia


Dr Sola, on behalf of MDSA, thank you for accepting our invitation to be our special guest today for ‘Interview with the Experts’. Can you tell us a little bit about where you come from and how you become the Deputy Dean of IIUM?

I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. After finishing my BDS degree from the University of Indonesia in 1996, I became a junior academic staff there. Then in 1999, I went for PhD programme in Dental Sciences from the Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) and finished my degree in April 2005. Subsequently, I was appointed as a research associate and post-doctoral fellow at the Department of Molecular Craniofacial Embryology, Graduate School of Medical and Dental Sciences, TMDU. In 2008, I joined the Faculty of Dentistry at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) as a lecturer. Moving to Kuantan gave me a bit of culture shock as it is different from Jakarta where I need to face heavy traffic jam everyday and also from Tokyo where the public transport is very efficient. However overall, I do enjoy my life here.

During the early days of our faculty in 2008, we did not have many staffs and thus we had our colleagues from the Faculty of Medicine to help us deliver some of the lectures. As years passed by, more staffs joined and now we are able to deliver the lectures by ourselves. Now I teach subjects such as medical microbiology, biochemistry and oral biology to Year 1 and 2 dental students. As one of the pioneers here, I also bear witness to the whole process of the Dentistry building being built since 2009. During the 3 years of the construction period, we had to conduct our classes in the Faculty of Science building.

I usually spend my time in the laboratory and I do encourage other colleagues to pursue research as well. IIUM wants to achieve the status of a research-centred university and to reach that target, we need to publish a certain amount of quality research. At first, we could not really do anything but as the number of staffs increased, we were more able to conduct researches. The staffs can produce 2 to 3 publications per year and our publications as well as citations has been increasing ever since. Granted that we are still new in the field and equipped with only a simple laboratory, having secured such prestigious grants from both the university and the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) is quite astonishing to us. Our hope is to publish even more research and having them patented if possible.

In 2013, I was appointed as the Deputy Dean for Postgraduate Research in which I need to establish the postgraduate programmes by preparing some proposals and submitting them to the Malaysia Quality Agency (MQA). Honestly, I was not familiar with office work and I prefer to stay in the laboratory, but with all the support from the others, I tried my best and began to learn. Hopefully, we can recruit more postgraduate students and put them in other faculties first, then by the end of 2016, we can start our postgraduate programmes.

The BDS programme in IIUM has inculcated some Islamic values in the knowledge, practice and ethics of dentistry. What are the values and how does IIUM inculcate these values?

Inculcating Islamic values is one of the reasons I join IIUM as I never had such practice before in Japan and Indonesia. It is our official vision and mission here to produce dentists with Islamic values. Islam is not only about praying but also about dealing with people. So we want our graduates to have good attitudes and characters, Muslims call it akhlaq (good manners). In Japan, although Islam is not a popular religion, I would say that the people are practising values similar to ours when they are being very strict with time yet are kind to people at the same time. Likewise, when dealing with patients, we can practise those values of discipline and kindness. We need to consider our patient as a whole and holistic person, instead of just the oral cavity, and trying to solve patients’ problems is part of Islamic values too. In another circumstance, we need to make some patients aware that it is impossible to have their dentures look like their natural teeth as we cannot compete with what Allah has made. And in the process of healing, we can only facilitate while Allah is the one who truly gives the healing. Before ending my lecture, I often give some Islamic inputs so that students can appreciate what Allah has given to us and not take things for granted.

Another value is respecting people, patients, colleagues, students, seniors and juniors as human beings. Although as lecturers we always instruct you to do things, we are also aware that you will be our colleagues too in the near future. I am happy to see my students who have graduated able to give good dental treatments. A student of mine of five years ago is now providing dental care for me.

There are many Malaysians currently studying dentistry in Indonesia. Since you come from Indonesia, could you share with us the differences of the dentistry field in Malaysia and Indonesia?

At the moment, after going through 5 years of BDS programme in Malaysia, you can straight away register to the Ministry of Health and get your license to practise. However it is very different in Indonesia. The students there need to go through 3 years of pre-clinical phase first. After that, they will be awarded with the Bachelor of Dental Science but they cannot treat patients yet. Only if they proceed and pass their clinical phase for 2.5 years will they be awarded the title of Bachelor of Dental Surgery. Thereafter, dental graduates have to pass a national qualifying examination to get their license to practice. Despite having a BDS degree, if you do not pass the examination, you cannot practise dentistry. This is how Indonesia maintains the quality of its graduates.

Another difference is that while Malaysia usually follows the British system, Indonesia takes systems from different countries and modifies them to come up with a system that is most suitable to the country.

When the number of dental students are increasing, the minimum requirements to enter the course will decrease. I think Malaysia should control the number of dental students enrolling in order to prevent oversupply of dentists and maintain a high quality of graduates.

One of your specialties is molecular oncology. Can you tell us briefly about what it is and why are you interested in this field?

Actually I joined molecular craniofacial embryology at first. But since most of my supervisors were focusing on cancer cycle, I was motivated to do a study in the mechanism of oral cancer for my PhD research. Certain cancers have resistance against gene therapy. Nowadays, oral cancers are treated by surgery and chemotherapy. The disadvantage of doing surgery is that the patient will encounter face deformation as doctors need to cut the jaw and chemotherapy has its own side effects too. Since the recurrence of cancer is very high, researchers has begun to think that we should kill the cancer cells specifically using a special weapon. This weapon can kill cancer cells while sparing the healthy cells. A lot of genes in cancer cells have been mutated. There are specific genes like p53 which can kill cancer cells if introduced into it. However, some cells become resistant to some genes and after studying the mechanism, it turns out that there are some protein modifications which calls for another gene to be chosen and modified. I became familiar with the particulars of genes with regards to the cell cycle.

This issue intrigues me even more as a friend and a relative of mine passed away due to cancer. In Japan, there are several research groups dealing with animals and cells and I was just looking for an opportunity to benefit the future generations on this matter while holding on to the hope that there might be a cure to such illnesses one day. At the beginning of my coming to Malaysia, I could not focus on this research as I needed to learn the main research topics here in IIUM such as natural products. When I was doing a research on molecular oncology, I dealt with animal cell cultures, RNA, DNA proteins, genetic engineering, plasmids and adenovirus which demanded my knowledge on basic microbiology of virus and bacteria. For the gene, I need to know the biochemistry of proteins and also the anatomy of the oral cavity. Therefore, I have become proficient in oral biology, biochemistry and microbiology now.

Before gene therapy is realised, the research needs to undergo several tests like animal and laboratory patent tests. Right now, gene therapy is at an early stage. Treatment for cancer patients is still radiography therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. Gene therapy is still in its clinical trials. We can only test on a small number of patients, usually those who are in their final stage of cancer. Of course, we consider the patients’ ethical rights too. I would love to try this in Malaysia though. As far as I know, we do not have such clinical trials yet as we need to get approvals from the Ministry of Health. Even in the United States, gene therapy was successful in the clinic but was then cancelled by the FDA in its third phase of clinical trials due to the various side effects. Gene therapy uses adenovirus to introduce the gene into the body. Sometimes adenovirus manifests problems in patients. In other countries like China, gene therapy is available because they have different controlled bodies. It is not available in the market but people can go and ask for such therapy. They will give it as they have different regulations. In Malaysia, I have never heard of such gene therapy trials using adenovirus.

Dr Sola, what is your advice to the current dental students?

Firstly, reflect on your intentions of entering this field. Is it for the social status or the title of the doctor or is it to help people? This is important because your intention determines your ambition and I believe that some of us want to be the best and help other people. I do hope too that you would think of helping people globally and not just in Malaysia.

Secondly, study hard. You should be the best dentist and not just to pass the examination. If you are just thinking of passing the examinations, you tend to forget a lot of things that have been taught after you graduate.

Thirdly, aside from the academics, try to improve on your soft skills which will be useful in dealing with patients. If you want to open your own practice, you need to know the regulations well. These things would not be taught in dentistry school. You also need to choose between being a clinician or exploring the basic sciences like me. To be a clinician, you can choose to be a pure clinician or an academic clinician. In the academic line, you need to be good in doing research. If you have the intention to help people, you can open up your own clinic and provide free dental services to people who are in need and make money from those who are able to pay.

Last but not least, practice lifelong learning. You need to improve and refresh your knowledge or else you will be outdated. The evolution of technology in dentistry is very fast. Moreover, if you are interested to work in other countries, you need to know the local regulations well. Always improve on your knowledge and update it with the latest one.