DUBAI: A passion for science and years of hard work has put two Saudi women researchers in the spotlight following their groundbreaking studies on organ transplant alternatives and stem cell treatments.
Wafa Audeh Altalhi and Asma Al-Amoodi were among the six female scientists honored at the sixth edition of the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Fellowship awards in Dubai.
Each of the researchers was awarded a grant in recognition of their outstanding achievements. Altalhi received €20,000 ($22,000) in the postdoctorate researchers category, while Al-Amoodi received €8,000 in the PhD students category.
The 21-year-old initiative empowers women in science and highlight the value of their achievements, while promoting gender equality. So far the program has supported more than 3,100 women and rewarded 107 laureates, granting doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships in 117 countries.
Altalhi’s research in donor-less organ transplants is designed to counter end-stage organ failure, a leading cause of death worldwide.
“The transplant waiting list has been increasing in recent years, putting immense pressure on patients in terms of hospital expenses. My research uses a patient’s own stem cells to build replacing organs as an alternative to allogenic organ transplants,” she said.
Altalhi’s focus is on bioengineering patient-specific and donor-less organs by making specialized tissue and organs ready for transplant when needed.
“Awards like this provide a platform where candidates and their contributions are examined by experts. I believe that this is important to promote healthy competence in the scientific field and push innovation forward,” Altalhi said.
Before becoming a science laureate, Altalhi attended Umm Al-Qura University, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in laboratory medicine.
She went on to complete a master’s degree in cellular and molecular medicine, followed by a PhD in laboratory medicine and pathobiology at the University of Ottawa and Toronto in Canada.
“I am now doing my postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University and the Center for Organ Bioengineering at Massachusetts general hospital,” she said.
Meanwhile, furthering research in stem cell treatments for cancer patients is Al-Amoodi’s top priority.
She is convinced that more can be done to treat hematological diseases through stem cell research.
According to the Saudi Cancer Registry, leukaemia is the fifth most common cancer among both men and women.
With limited therapy options and a high number of patients in the Kingdom, Al-Amoodi is determined to improve the efficiency of bone marrow transplants through her research.
“This award is about overcoming all limitations and challenges I have faced. The award has turned my dream to do something for our society into reality,” she said.
Al-Amoodi has a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory technology and a master’s degree in biology. She plans to pursue her PhD studies in stem cell adhesion mechanism.