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Women fellowship winners laud government support
By Jamil Khan November 14, 2017
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DUBAI: Never give up, be persistent and work hard to achieve your goals. Women in the UAE are fortunate to have immense support from the government and their community. With support, women should fulfill their dreams and excel in the field of science.

This was stated by Dr Fatma Taher, one of the six winners of L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Fellowship 2017 while talking to The Gulf Today ahead of the official awarding ceremony. Each winner will be awarded EUR 20,000 for the Postdoc Researchers category and EUR 8,000 for the PHD Students category, in recognition of their contribution to science and their outstanding research work.

“I want to make it easier for doctors to diagnose lung cancer early,” said Taher, an Associate Research Professor at the IT Department of the Zayed University College of Technological Innovation in Dubai. Lung cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world – second only to skin cancer. And it is deadly, with high rates of mortality. Late detection is a problem, because, as Taher explains, “Early stages don’t necessarily cause pain or exhibit symptoms.”  “It is true that the UAE government in various levels is taking major initiatives to empower women but there is still need of funds to carry out research or something like that. Women should benefit from the support of community and the government as well as the favourable environment in universities,” she added.

Currently she is engaged in three research projects to devise a scientific method based on deep learning and artificial intelligence to pave the way for researchers and doctors to diagnose and treat different diseases.

Regarding the grant from L’Oréal-UNESCO, she said it was a major support in her research and helps her continue to develop more solutions in the field. “This fund helps her to spend more time abroad, especially in the USA, with other researchers in the field. They have more developed expertise and technologies than here, as well as attending different workshops to enhance one’s skills,” she added.

While lauding the L’Oréal-UNESCO initative in the region, she said: “They believe in Arab women and understand that we need someone to extend financial support especially for women in science and become role models in their respective societies.”

Another winner, Dr Saba Alheialy, Postdoc Researchers Category from the UAE and assistant professor at the Mohammad Bin Rashid University in Dubai, said that her PhD research comprises of the role of immune system in asthma. “When I came to the UAE, I found obesity to be a huge issue and a public concern. So I decided to work on obesity and asthma as my project under the L’Oréal-UNESCO grant. We found that patients with severe asthma responded poorly to the conventional medication we gave them. I’m looking into the role of the immune system in obesity as well,” she added.

Around 16 per cent of residents in the UAE suffer from asthma, with genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors playing a role. 

“My research is still attempting to determine the cause of poor response to conventional medicine in patients of asthma and obesity,” she said, adding she has already formed a team of graduates to help in the research.

Regarding the research culture in the country, she was worried about returning from Canada but saw how the infrastructure is getting better and has been greatly encouraging. Her research once completed next year will be of international benefit.

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