March 18, 2013

Engaging Communities, Changing Lives

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As a teenager curious about the source of human diversity, aspiring cardiologist Maen D Abou Ziki always knew he wanted to explore the secrets hidden within the simplest form of our existence: genes.

And now, having been awarded the prize for the Best Student Health and Biomedical Research of the Year at the 2012 Annual Research Forum (ARF), Abou Ziki is proving the transformative power of genetics in the medical field through his research in Qatar.

“The Arab populations in general, and the Qatari population in specific, are under-represented in international studies on genetic markers of disease. Hence, what is discovered in European populations on the genetic risk factors for diabetes, for instance, might not be applicable to our patient population in Qatar,” says Abou Ziki, now in his third year at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q).

“We set out to discover the genetic variations that increase the risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease in the Qatari population,” he adds. His subsequent research uncovered a genetic mutation prevalent among Qatari and African-derived populations that is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

The success of this award-winning study, ‘High Prevalence of the ApoE Arg145Cys Dyslipidemia At-risk Polymorphism in African-derived Populations’, a collaboration with his mentor at WCMC-Q, has inspired Abou Ziki to continue his research into new frontiers of genetic diagnosis.

Different Disciplines

This young scientist’s discoveries in biomedicine are paralleled by critical studies in the field of environmental science, also awarded at the Annual Research Forum. Qatar University’s Momina Adel Zakzok and Shamsa Abdullah Al-Khanjari examined the contamination of one of Qatar’s lesser-known natural treasures: the coastal mangroves of the northeast.

Al-Khanjari’s study, entitled ‘Concentrations and Bioaccumulation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the Soft Sediments of Mangrove, East Coast of Qatar’, won her the Best Student Poster of the Year in Energy and Environment Research. She says, “Oil industries and transportation can impose a potential environmental impact on this unique ecosystem, so I was interested in investigating the concentrations of different PAHs in the sediments and bivalve tissues within the mangrove ecosystem.”

A coinciding study by her colleague Adel Zakzok uncovered alarming arsenic contamination in the mangroves. Adel Zakzok hopes her ARF award for Best Student Energy and Environment Research of the Year will help when applying for a place on Master’s programs, where she would like to continue her research on environmental contamination in Qatar, the country of her birth.

Although these student-led studies fall under vastly different disciplines, they are united by their concern for issues critical to the development of modern-day Qatar. This is an indication of success for the Annual Research Forum, which is organized annually by Qatar Foundation and is heading towards its fourth year.

The forum helps incentivize this important research and facilitate collaboration in the fields of health and biomedicine, energy and environment, computing and technology, and arts, behavioral and social sciences, humanities and Islamic studies.

Other Winners

In previous years, researchers who received awards in each of these fields have gone on to publish or present their findings to international audiences.

The complete list of ARF 2012 award winners also includes:
Dia Noufal - University of Angers; Abstract Title of Social Sustainability and the Historical District Projects: Souq Waqif in Qatar as a Case Study for Best Student Arts, Behavioural and Social Sciences, Humanities and Islamic Studies Research Program of the Year.

Dania Abed Rabbou - Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar; Abstract Title of Extending the Reach of Social-Based Context-Aware Ubiquitous Systems for Best Student Computing and IT Research of the Year.

Rawan Al Saad - Qatar University and Nile University; Abstract Title of Efficient Parallel Implementation of the SHRiMP Sequence Alignment Tool using MapReduce for Best Student Poster of the Year in Computing and IT Research.

Omayma Abdulla Al-Saei, Najah Abdulsalam Al Fakih – Qatar University; Abstract Title of Effect Of Beta-Catenin Inhibition On Liver Cancer Stem Cell Profile for Best Student Poster of the Year in Health and Biomedical Research.