Feats of two Saudis offer glimpse of Arab region’s female science talent

After hearing a talk on DNA modification, Lama Al-Abdi was inspired to develop projects on eye-development diseases, pictured. (Supplied)
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After hearing a talk on DNA modification, Lama Al-Abdi was inspired to develop projects on eye-development diseases, pictured. (Supplied)
Feats of two Saudis offer glimpse of Arab region’s female science talent
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Updated 11 January 2021

Feats of two Saudis offer glimpse of Arab region’s female science talent

Feats of two Saudis offer glimpse of Arab region’s female science talent
  • Asrar Damdam and Lama Al-Abdi honored by L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program
  • In spite of recent progress, women remain a minority in the STEM professions worldwide, and especially in the MENA region

DUBAI: Saudi women are earning global recognition for their achievements in medical science and research. Two of them recently won awards from the L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program for their work.

One of the women, Asrar Damdam, 27, was honored in the Ph.D. students’ category for her role in the development of a pump meant to revolutionize the way a healthy heartbeat is regulated — combining medicine, electrical engineering and electro-physics.

“There are some diseases and heart-related behavioral activities, like heart failure, that can happen suddenly, and researchers are developing new solutions to this problem,” Damdam told Arab News.

“We were investigating the possibility of building a soft-sleeve device with a built-in actuator to support the heart muscle and aid the pumping functionality.”

The project was not without its challenges. The only platform available on the market was rectangular, which did not conform to the heart’s natural shape. When Damdam began her research, she turned to nature’s geometries for inspiration, from spirals to spiderwebs, before settling on the honeycomb.




Asrar Damdam fused the natural geometry of honeycomb with medicine and engineering prowess in her development of a pump to regulate heartbeats. (Supplied)

“The beehive structure, which is an array of honeycombs, is the nearest to the heart shape,” she said. “Building a flexible and stretchable array of honeycombs was a very interesting idea to me, although it included lots of challenges. I liked it and presented it to my professor, who liked it too and approved it.”

Damdam then had to consider materials. Silicon was her first choice, owing to its favorable electrical properties, its abundance and cheapness. However, with her initial design, it was found to be too delicate.

After graduating from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in August 2018, it took Damdam a year to make her breakthrough, following countless experiments at a highly sophisticated nano-facility.

“The structure must withstand the heart’s expansion and contraction behavior without breakage,” she said.

“To overcome the silicon fragility issue, I used the regular honeycomb shape with serpentine sides. I designed the platform with a serpentine-shaped interconnect to form the sides of every honeycomb cell and also to connect the cells with circular islands, which are located in the middle of each cell, to be used as a host for electronic components,” she said.

“The serpentine interconnects introduced the stretchability feature, so when the heart expands, the platform doesn’t break.”

Damdam says all bio-compatible devices must be flexible so that they can adapt to the natural movement of the body and skin. “To achieve this, I made it very thin — around 15 micrometres,” or 0.015 millimeters.

Although her project marks only the first step, aimed at proving the viability of the concept, its reconfigurability means the wider scientific community can build on the idea and explore the tremendous technological possibilities it opens up.

“The successful demonstration of the reconfigurability concept using silicon also enables a lot of applications in bio-medical electronics,” she said. “This was my main motivation. If this research is improved, then it can really help in the early detection of cardiovascular diseases, in multi-sensory platforms and in the development of artificial hearts for transplantation.”

INNUMBER

  • 28.8% - Proportion of the world’s researchers who are women (UNESCO).

With the platform now fabricated and her research published in Applied Physics Letters Journal, Damdam’s attention shifted to the world of start-ups, helped along by an entrepreneurial training program in California sponsored by the MiSK Foundation.

While there, she won a competition and received funding for her start-up idea of using ultraviolet light to extend the shelf life of food. She says young Saudis have enormous potential in the world of business.

“We are very capable, educated and supported,” Damdam said. “We should give back to our community and country, and actively participate and support the development process.”

Another Saudi woman honored, this time in the L’Oréal-UNESCO program’s postdoctoral researchers’ category, is Lama Al-Abdi in recognition of her research on chromatin — a substance within chromosomes consisting of DNA and protein — and the regulation of genes in relation to vision loss.

Al-Abdi, who is in her early 30s, began her project a few years earlier as an extension of her Ph.D. research at Purdue University, Indiana, examining how certain chemical modifications impact DNA.




After hearing a talk on DNA modification, Lama Al-Abdi was inspired to develop projects on eye-development diseases. (Supplied)

“It does not change the DNA per se, but it changes the shape of the DNA itself and how it interacts with its surroundings,” Al-Abdi told Arab News. “These changes can be inherited from one generation to another and they play a very important role in development, embryogenesis, cancer, obesity, diabetes, complex diseases as well as very simple diseases, such as any eye abnormalities that we may see.”

Al-Abdi, who began examining the theme of vision loss as an undergraduate at King Saud University, now works at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh. She has made significant contributions to medical understanding of mutations affecting the eye.

Al-Abdi and her team have recruited test subjects with eye abnormalities to determine whether their vision loss is the result of a mutation or a change in the DNA — or on top of the DNA — that may have contributed to the onset of disease.

“When I first started pursuing chromatin, I was just starting my Ph.D. and my professor invited a speaker,” she said. “The speaker started talking about modifications on the DNA, which, to me, was shocking because I had never heard of it before.

“I was just in awe because I thought I was quite well immersed in the field of genetics, but that was a whole new discovery, and I found that I knew nothing. That was the start and I was hooked.”

Al-Abdi is involved with several ongoing projects related to eye-development diseases and why more than one genetic abnormality can appear within the same family and what can be done to prevent suffering.

In spite of recent progress, women remain a minority in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

According to 2018 figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, just 28.8 percent of the world’s researchers are women. Female enrolment in engineering, manufacturing and construction courses stands at just 8 percent worldwide, while in natural sciences, mathematics and statistics it is 5 percent. For information and communications technology (ICT), the figure drops to a paltry 3 percent.




As of 2018, less than 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (Shutterstock)

With female doctors, nurses and researchers playing a crucial role in the battle against COVID-19, experts have repeated their calls on schools, governments and employers in the region to do more to fix the imbalance.

Since announcing its goals for the Vision 2030 reform agenda, Saudi Arabia has been laying the groundwork for women’s empowerment.

Al-Abdi says she is thrilled to see young Saudi women benefiting from more encouragement and support to develop their interests and skills.

“I do see quite a lot of young talented women expanding their knowledge in all areas,” Al-Abdi said.

“I wish I had the tools and opportunities when I was younger, but now our government is putting a lot of effort into motivating, teaching and opening up opportunities that were not always available for us back then.

“It’s my dream to motivate and inspire people to do more.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek 


Saudi aid agency continues projects in Yemen, Jordan

Saudi aid agency continues projects in Yemen, Jordan
Updated 04 March 2021

Saudi aid agency continues projects in Yemen, Jordan

Saudi aid agency continues projects in Yemen, Jordan

AL-MAHRA: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) launched the second phase of the winter clothes project in Yemen’s Al-Mahrah governorate on Wednesday. The aid, which included winter clothing, has benefited 700 people so far.
Local Council Secretary-General Abdullah Neimer praised the role of Saudi Arabia represented by KSrelief for its efforts and interventions in various sectors.
In Yemen also, KSrelief distributed more than 76,184 tons of foodstuffs for those in need in the rural areas of Hadibu, the capital of the Socotra archipelago province.
Meanwhile in Jordan, KSrelief clinics continued providing medical services in the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees. More than 400 patients with various conditions were provided with medical services and prescriptions at different clinics.


DiplomaticQuarter: British Embassy in Riyadh announces finalists for Study UK Alumni Awards

DiplomaticQuarter: British Embassy in Riyadh announces finalists for Study UK Alumni Awards
Updated 04 March 2021

DiplomaticQuarter: British Embassy in Riyadh announces finalists for Study UK Alumni Awards

DiplomaticQuarter: British Embassy in Riyadh announces finalists for Study UK Alumni Awards

The British Embassy and British Council in Saudi Arabia have announced the nine finalists for the “Study UK Alumni Awards 2021 in Saudi Arabia.”
The finalists were selected from about 1,300 applicants for their outstanding achievements as business professionals, entrepreneurs and community leaders, and for their contributions to strengthening collaborative ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia, a statement by the embassy said.
The three award winners will be announced at a ceremony hosted by the British ambassador later this year.
The Study UK Alumni Awards were established in 2014 and celebrate the achievements of those who graduated from UK-based higher education institutions and went on to make outstanding contributions in various fields.
Neil Crompton, British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said: “I am delighted to announce the finalists for the Study UK Alumni Awards 2021. This award celebrates the achievements of outstanding Saudi women and men who studied in the UK and are using their education to make a positive impact. As strategic partners for Vision 2030, we are proud of their achievements and contribution to their country. My congratulations to all our finalists and I look forward to meeting them at the award ceremony.”
Eilidh Kennedy McLean, British Council country director said: “The Study UK Alumni Awards provide a platform for recognizing and celebrating the success of Saudi alumni of UK universities. Their achievements are wide-ranging and inspirational, and directly contribute to the Vision 2030 goals and aspirations. The prestigious international award celebrates UK higher education and the achievements of UK alumni all over the world. Now in its seventh year, international UK alumni applied from over 100 countries, representing almost 150 UK higher education institutions across the UK.”
The finalists of the “Professional Achievement Award,” which recognizes alumni who have distinguished themselves through exemplary leadership in their professional field, are: Dr. Taghred Al-Ghaith, Dr. Roua Al-Subki, and Dr. Mohammed Al-Shammari.
The finalists of the “Social Impact Award,” which acknowledges alumni who have made an exceptional contribution to creating positive social change, are: Mashni Al-Saeed, Abdulmohsen Al-Dayel, and Dr. Bandar Al-Osaimi.
The finalists of the “Entrepreneurial Award,” which highlights alumni who have played a leading role in innovation, are: Dr. Wail Mousa, Arwa Al-Ammari, and Hattan Ahmed.
The Study UK Awards ceremonies are held in 13 countries including the US, China, Pakistan and Egypt.
 


Muslim World League chief thanks Sri Lankan govt for ending cremation of COVID-19 victims

Muslim World League chief thanks Sri Lankan govt for ending cremation of COVID-19 victims
Updated 04 March 2021

Muslim World League chief thanks Sri Lankan govt for ending cremation of COVID-19 victims

Muslim World League chief thanks Sri Lankan govt for ending cremation of COVID-19 victims

RIYADH: The Sri Lankan government has agreed to the request of the Muslim World League (MWL) — in accordance with Islamic procedures — to stop cremating the bodies of Muslims who have died of COVID-19.
The news came in a phone call to Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, MWL secretary-general, from Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena.
During the call, Gunawardena told Al-Issa that the Sri Lankan government had agreed to the MWL’s request. Gunawardena said that this served to strengthen the close relationship between the MWL, which is a global reference for Muslim nations, and the Sri Lankan government.
Al-Issa thanked Sri Lanka for approving the MWL’s request to stop the cremation of the bodies of Muslims and instead allow their burial.
The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also welcomed the Sri Lankan government’s decision.
The OIC said that it had on several occasions during the pandemic called on Sri Lankan authorities to refrain from cremating Muslims and to give them an Islamic burial.
 


Saudi intellectual property authority confiscates, destroys millions of products in violation of laws 

Saudi intellectual property authority confiscates, destroys millions of  products in violation of laws 
Updated 04 March 2021

Saudi intellectual property authority confiscates, destroys millions of products in violation of laws 

Saudi intellectual property authority confiscates, destroys millions of  products in violation of laws 

JEDDAH: The Saudi Authority of Intellectual Property (SAIP) announced that it has confiscated and destroyed more than 5.5 million items in 2020 that were found to be violating the country’s intellectual property (IP) regulations.
“These items included pirated DVDs, CDs and books; and illegal desktops, laptops, hard disks, memory chips, TV satellite boxes and CD-copying devices. We also cooperated with Saudi Customs to seize and destroy more than 2 million counterfeited products. These included shoes, clothes, mobile accessories, sanitary ware and car filters, all bearing well-known trademarks from major international companies,” said Yasser Al-Debassi, executive director of IP Respect at SAIP.
SAIP seeks to improve the protection of IP by developing its enforcement system, ensuring the quality of its operations and increasing transparency between itself and the private sector.
In its recently released 2020 report, SAIP said that it had received 67 cases directly from plaintiffs, who reported their complaints to the authority.
It added that 115 cases were conducted through inspection visits to websites. Over 300 cases were conducted through other online inspections, while 42 cases were referred to SAIP by the Ministry of Media.
The report revealed that most of the IP infringements occurred in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, with a rate of 61 percent. Makkah ranked second with 24 percent, while the Eastern Province came third with 14 percent.
The remaining 9 percent of violations took place in other Saudi cities. However, the report said, some complaints were dismissed for “uncompleted requirements.”
The report added that most cases were art-related, involving the infringement of rights for photographs, audio, videos, and designs. Literary cases and research formed 25 percent of the total number of cases, while software infringement cases reached 12 percent.
a responded to more than 5,790 emails and phone calls, reporting violations through its different communication channels.
It confirmed in its report that 119 resolutions were issued by the copyright committee, assigned to review violations of the copyright law.
“The IP Respect surveillance team has visited and examined over 1,350 websites and detected 308 violated websites. It filed the cases to the Permanent Internet Committee, who ruled that these websites be blocked,” Al-Debassi told Arab News. “Fines of more than SR255,000 ($68,000) were imposed on the violators. The violations ranged from literary works to sports TV broadcasting.”
The authority launched online inspection campaigns to block the websites, which, without permission from right owners, either posted copyrighted photos and graphics on social media platforms; exhibited copies of copyrighted books and magazines; and allowed for the viewing and download of copyrighted series, movies or pirated software.
SAIP also launched copyright-enforcement campaigns in Riyadh, Makkah, Jeddah, Dammam, Alkhobar, and Al-Ahsa, with the aim of stopping all infringement activities and copyright-related violations in computer software and programs, satellite broadcasting, and printed or audiovisual materials.
The sectors targeted by the campaigns included video, electronics, computer maintenance and students’ services stores, which provide document-copying services.
“SAIP is currently working on tracking new piracy trends and addressing the challenges facing industries. It is doing its best to ensure compliance with IP laws and regulations in the Kingdom in order to maintain an attractive business environment,” Al-Debassi said.
SAIP has launched a number of initiatives at the national level, including a national enforcement committee for IP.
It is also working closely with its partners in the private sector, global associations and IP protection offices to fight piracy.
“SAIP has partnered with right holders to combat counterfeiting. We have conducted meetings with our partners from tech companies, such as Microsoft, to discuss the latest methods of piracy for its software and operating systems. The authority has also met with media company OSN to discuss the challenge of illegal Internet Protocol television boxes and subscriptions,” Al-Debassi added.
 


Saudi crown prince receives Arab League award

Saudi crown prince receives Arab League award
Updated 04 March 2021

Saudi crown prince receives Arab League award

Saudi crown prince receives Arab League award
  • The Arab Development Action Shield is given annually by the Arab League to Arab figures who lead development in their countries

CAIRO: On behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Wednesday received the Arab Development Action Shield award for 2021.

The Arab Development Action Shield is given annually by the Arab League to Arab figures who lead development in their countries.
The Arab League awarded the shield to the crown prince in recognition of his role promoting comprehensive development in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world, and his efforts to support joint Arab action to strengthen the security, stability, development and prosperity of the region.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, presented the award to the Saudi minister during his visit to Cairo for the 155th ordinary session of the Arab League Council at the level of foreign ministers.
“It is a pleasure and an honor for me to present the Arab Development Action Shield as a certificate of appreciation to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his efforts, performance and what he does to serve Saudi Arabia,” Gheit said.
The handover ceremony was attended by Abdulrahman Al-Rassi, undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for multilateral international affairs, and Osama Nugali, Saudi ambassador to Egypt and permanent representative to the Arab League.