JEDDAH: A Saudi woman has used her expertise in chemistry to develop a new device that can carry drugs to points of inflammation in the body.
Ghada Mutlaq Al-Mutairi, 39, who currently lives in the United States and holds a doctorate in chemical engineering, works at the University of California. She received a $3 million global innovation award from HIN, the largest organization supporting scientific research in the United States.
Her device, which was recognized as one of the four most important inventions by the United States Congress in 2012, provides a way to penetrate the body, detect inflammation, and provide treatment using nano-capsules containing medicine, according to reports.
Al-Mutairi said the technology has been successful in treating eye and rheumatoid patients in the United States, with possible applications in other fields including agriculture, engineering and manufacturing. This work is now taking place, she said.
She said she has been motivated by a determination to do something good for humanity. “Ten years ago I started asking heart surgeons what their biggest problem was. Most said it was blockages of arteries that lead to strokes, specifically accumulation of fat in artery walls with age. But the problem was cardiologists could not determine if there was inflammation especially in the early stages.”
“I began to ask about how to find and eliminate inflammation. As I began researching this I came up with the idea of developing a nano-capsule with light which can be dispersed throughout the body, to find and treat inflammation with drugs.”
She said the development took 10 years, and by 2011 they were able to produce a substance that interacts with the inflammation. “Then in 2013 we were able to develop the nano-capsule technology that does not dissolve in water and only opens on contact with inflammation in the human body.”
Al-Mutairi’s invention has attracted the interest of several firms, including a Japanese agricultural company and Pfizer, who purchased a license for its use from the university. There has also been interest from other pharmaceutical, chemical, engineering, and solar companies around the world.
Al-Mutairi earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2000 from Occidental University in Los Angeles, and her master’s in biochemistry from the University of California. After obtaining her doctorate degree in chemical engineering in 2005, she went on to produce numerous studies and a book that has been translated into German and Japanese. She then worked as a professor in California.
Al-Mutairi is currently working with her brother Khaled Al-Mutairi, a well-known plastic surgeon in the United States, to support research in plastic surgery, specifically developing a new chemical to rid the body of excess fat.
Al-Mutairi has three brothers and one sister, all of whom are successful scientists and doctors in the United States and Saudi Arabia. “My mother studied chemistry, and all I can say is we are who we are because of her, a smart woman who dedicated her life to her five children.”
As for success, Al-Mutairi said this requires a combination of optimism and determination, as well as hard work, clarity of vision, a firm purpose, and a competitive environment.
She said she follows up on developments in Saudi Arabia with her mother. “I love my country and am proud of it, whether I am in the United States or elsewhere in the world.”
Al-Mutairi’s family members describe her as someone who has a “love for science, is dedicated to her work, and is able to focus and see things others do not.”