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Two Saudis among 6 exceptional female scientists from GCC recognized

DUBAI — Two Saudi women scientists Dr. Lama AlAbdi, in the Post-doctorate Researchers category, and Asrar Damdam, in the PhD Students category, were among the six female scientists recognized in a Middle East Regional Young Talents Program.

For the seventh consecutive year, L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program, in partnership with Khalifa University of Science and Technology, continues to recognize Arab female scientists from the GCC for their revolutionary researches in the fields of Life sciences, Physical sciences, Mathematics and Computer science.

The regional program is part of L’Oréal-UNESCO’s global initiative that has recognized over 3,400 phenomenal researchers since its inception 22 years ago.

This year, the program awarded six winners in the Post-doctorate Researchers and PhD Students categories where Dr. Lama AlAbdi (KSA), Dr. Isra Marei (Qatar), and Dr. Maryam Tariq Khaleel Alhashmi (UAE) each received EUR20,000 in the Post-doctorate Researchers category. Asrar Damdam (KSA), Dana Zaher (UAE), and Mina Al Ani (UAE) each received EUR8,000 in the PhD Students category.

For the second year in a row, the program has received the endorsement of Sarah Bint Yousef Al Amiri, minister of state for advanced technology.

“The pandemic has turned 2020 into a transformational year in various aspects of society, and the recognition of women in fields of science is as vital as ever in the drive to remove gender biases across the industry.

“I am immensely proud to endorse the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program and celebrate the extraordinary contributions of these six women”, said Al Amiri.

“The increase in representation of women in science over the past decade is a testament to the changing perspectives of society and remarkable progress for the Arab community. I wish the talents of 2020 success as they work towards answering some of the most challenging scientific problems of the world,” Al Amiri added.

Remi Chadapaux, L’Oréal Middle East managing director, said: “The seventh edition of L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program is a special year for us. While we celebrate these exceptional women and their breakthrough research, recent events have also brought to light the need for a diversified approach to modern day solutions.

“Today, we continue this legacy as the most highly regarded initiative in the region in an effort to support a group of women with outstanding dedication to improve the lives of people within our communities.”

According to UNESCO, 34-57 percent of STEM graduates in Arab countries are women — a figure much higher than that seen in universities across the US or Europe. In the Middle East, women account for almost 50% or more of the total STEM student population.

In Saudi Arabia, 38% of the graduates in STEM were women; however, only 17% of the labor force were women. In the UAE, 61% of university students are female, whereas Oman has 71% and Bahrain 55%.

These numbers would lead to the belief that there is no shortage of female representation in STEM professions today. But for various reasons, these degrees are not being put to paid use across the region.

An increase in female participation will significantly narrow the gender gap and enhance women empowerment and overall economic growth. L’Oréal has been one of the first companies to create a globally recognized initiative to support and encourage female STEM graduates on such a large scale, one of the select few in the Middle East that has created a significant platform for women to thrive.

Dr. Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, executive vice-president, Khalifa University of Science and Technology, added: “Spearheading towards Vision 2021 and Agenda 2030, the UAE has progressed immensely by creating an array of opportunities to support women empowerment, and Khalifa University continues to play a key role through its contribution in this area.

“With the recent pandemic worldwide, it is more important than ever that educational institutions especially universities, the scientific community and society at large encourage more women to bring their unique perspectives to the field.

“We are honored to partner with L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program for the second consecutive year and would like to congratulate the 2020 winners for their outstanding achievements and look forward to their future achievements.”

Professor Mouïn Hamzé, president of Program’s Jury, said: “In the ‘COVID’ era, we must continue to empower our greatest minds amidst new and evolving challenges. The times call for renewed partnerships, global collaboration, ethics and open science. Arab women play an instrumental role in the development of science research, innovation and sustainable improvements in our region.

“This program is an ode to their success and the advancements we have made in bridging gender gaps and building a network, regional and global, of esteemed Laureates who can actively and professionally respond to new challenges in quality of life, healthy environments and social stability.”

About the 2020 Winners:

Post-doctorate Researchers category

• Dr. Lama AlAbdi (KSA): For her research on chromatin and regulation of gene, vision loss project

• Dr. Isra Marei (Qatar): For her research towards the development of 3D vascular drug screening platforms based on endothelial progenitor cells

• Dr. Maryam Tariq Khaleel Alhashmi (UAE): For her research on engineered catalytic materials for the sustainable production of chemicals

PHD Students category

• Asrar Damdam (KSA): For her research on the design and fabrication of a heart assistive device — the heart sleeve

• Dana Zaher (UAE): For her research on the role of metabolic reprogramming in the sensitivity of breast cancer to Chemo and immunotherapy

• Mina Al Ani (UAE): For her research on new therapeutic modality for mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) using Herceptin (trastuzumab)

In addition to the regional talents, two laureates from L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards, Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier and Professor Jennifer A. Doudna, received in October this year the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of a revolutionary method of genome editing.

This brings to five, the number of Laureates that have received this distinction, after Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1995), Ada Yonath (Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009), Elizabeth H. Blackburn (Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009). Since the creation of the Nobel Prize in 1901, a total of 621 scientists have been awarded for their work in Physics, Chemistry or Medicine, including only 22 women. The last time a Nobel Prize was awarded to a woman in these fields was in 1964. — SG



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