Saudi Ph.D. student Sharif Hala is a biomedical researcher and co-founder of NoorDx, a DNA sequencing company, and one of the recipients of the Ministry of Health’s research grant to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Hala currently works in the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology’s (KAUST) department of environmental science and engineering, doing research into pathogen genomics focusing on clinical microbiology aspects.
He gained a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and a master’s degree in medical molecular genetics, both from the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland.
As part of Prof. Arnab Pain’s pathogen genomics laboratory team at KAUST, Hala has been setting up partnerships with the Saudi Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Weqaya) and several hospitals in Jeddah, Makkah and Madinah to facilitate the genome sequencing and bioinformatic analysis of a large collection of Saudi SARS-CoV-2 strains.
In accordance with strict safety guidelines set by the World Health Organization, Hala has been driving from his home in Jeddah to several hospitals and quarantine hotels in the western region to collect samples from COVID-19 patients, and transporting them back to KAUST in his truck.
After spending hours collecting the samples, he meets Pain outside the KAUST gate (in accordance with safety guidelines) to hand over the swabs to be sequenced
by KAUST researchers. The extracted RNA is then analyzed through sequencing technology machines in the Bioscience KAUST Core Labs.
“These samples mean a lot for us because it means we can also help the hospitals in giving positive and negative samples. We can also provide a lot of good feedback to the treating doctors, and we can do the transmission,” said Hala.