L’Oréal-UNESCO Middle East Women in Science: Breaking Barriers

January 15, 2017 3:20 pm

L’Oréal-UNESCO Middle East Women in Science. (Image: supplied)

* Four Arab women scientists were awarded fellowship endowments for their research

* The winners were selected from a diver pool of applicants

* Winners are from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait


Four Arab women scientists were awarded the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Fellowship endowments last October, to support their outstanding work as women scientists in the Middle East.

Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi from the UAE, Dr Maha Al Asmakh from Qatar, Shimaa Hassan Eissa from Saudi Arabia and Lila Habib from Kuwait were selected from a diverse and highly qualified pool of applicants. AMEinfo got the chance to speak to three of them to learn more about their projects and ambitions:


Shimaa Hassan Eissa


What is the objective of your research and what do you aim to achieve through its success?

I hope my research will benefit humanity by introducing quick and sensitive analytical tools for monitoring several biologically important materials for different applications.


The applications include diagnosis of diseases such as cancers, diabetes and infectious diseases, as well as food quality control, etc.


What does the fellowship win mean to you personally and professionally?

I’m happy and honored to receive this fellowship. It means a lot to me on a personal level as it encourages me to continue my career in research. It also gives me moral support by shedding light on my research achievements so far and [providing] financial support for my current research projects.


How would you assess the fields of scientific research in your country and the larger MENA region?

In KSA, good research centres are being developed and supported, attracting many talented researchers from all over the world. In the MENA region, many countries [have] started to be aware of the importance of scientific research and started to give good support. However, more support for young researchers is needed.


Hanifa Taher Al Blooshi

If successful – which it will hopefully be – how would the outcome of your research benefit humanity?

The proposed research mainly focuses on developing a green and cost-effective process for enzymatic biodiesel production using [cheaper] solvents, namely natural compounds, to protect the enzyme from losing its activity. Thus, it can be used several times and reduce the overall process cost.


In addition, biodiesel is known as green alternative to petroleum diesel that we use daily in our transportation.


What does the fellowship mean to you on the personal and the professional levels?

Being selected among a pool of 55 candidates and representing the UAE, I believe, is a milestone achievement. The office in Dubai motivated me to work harder within this field as it also believes also in Arab women and how they can have a good contribution to science.


At a professional level, Masdar Institute always looks for sustainable renewable energy and biofuel is among the research fields that they are interested to implement.


How would you assess the fields of scientific research in your country and the larger MENA region?

Most of the UAE universities are accredited. Thus, our professors are well known in the science fields. Their selection always depends on the important topics in the field.


Although the UAE has just started focusing on research, the ambition has always been to be the pioneer and I’m sure the support for research and development will be the focus for coming years.


Lila Habib

If successful – which it will hopefully be – how would the outcome of your research benefit humanity?

My proposed project focuses on the investigation of rare genetic forms of muscular dystrophy (MD), using a type of stem cell called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to study and model the disease and develop much-needed therapies.


These types of recessive muscular dystrophies are comparatively more common in the Middle East (due to higher rates of consanguineous marriage) and unfortunately remain largely unaddressed by the pharmaceutical industry due to their low incidence worldwide.


What does the fellowship mean to you on the personal and the professional levels?

On a personal level, this fellowship is especially meaningful to me for all that it represents. As women in the Middle East, cultural attitudes and expectations in gender roles can often limit our opportunities. That, coupled with women traditionally being underrepresented globally in the field of science, makes me all the more grateful to be able contribute to my community through my research. I am truly grateful to L’Oréal and UNESCO for putting a spotlight on women in science. I hope it will show future generations that when women and men have equal opportunities to contribute to society, the entire globe will benefit.


On a Professional level, this award has provided a platform for me bring awareness to the rare genetic diseases that are prevalent in our Middle Eastern societies and to highlight the advantage of stem cell research to study these disorders. I hope this increased awareness will garner further support from our local funding agencies to continue the much-needed funding of research projects such as these and promote international collaborations with universities and research institutes world-wide to advance the research in the most efficient way possible.


How would you assess the fields of scientific research in your country and the larger MENA region?

The government of Kuwait has made considerable investments towards building the research infrastructure in the country and developing the research and development (R&D) industries, and the research community is beginning to flourish.


However, we still lack many of the essential resources and expertise available to more established research communities and lag behind other regions with similar incomes. We would greatly benefit from increased investments in basic and applied research, especially funding that promotes collaborative research projects between Arab countries and internationally.


Many of the Gulf and MENA countries have been proactive at promoting their R&D industries, motivated by the need to address health, economic, and social concerns relevant to the region and to diversify their economies. These countries have been successful in achieving significant innovation and advancements in the research field and I hope that Arab countries will continue to promote a culture of research and innovation in the region.


Hind Mustafa
By Hind Mustafa
Hind Mustafa specializes on the business of luxury in the region; she also covers hospitality and technology sectors. With more than four years' experience, she brings depth and clarity to the region's business news and views.