For the first time, a geneticist from the UAE was named among the five women known for their researches in life sciences during the World Science Day last November.
Dr. Lihadh Al-Gazali, Professor of Clinical Genetics and Pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the UAE University, was given the 10th Annual L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science in the African-Arab States, ‘for the characterization of new hereditary diseases.’
Aside from the recognition, Dr. Al-Gazali would also receive $100,000 and would be officially honored on March 6, 2008 at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris by Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, and Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, President of L’Oréal.
Proclaimed with her are V. Narry Kim, Assistant Professor at the School of Biological Sciences in Seoul National University in Korea for ‘elucidating several key steps in the formation of a new class of gene-regulating RNA molecules;’ Ada Yonath, Professor of Structural Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel for ‘structural studies of the protein-synthesizing system and the mode of action of antibiotics;’ Ana Belen Elgoyhen, Professor at the Institute for Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology in Argentina for ‘her contribution to the understanding of the molecular basis of hearing;’ and Elizabeth Blackburn, Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California in USA for ‘the discovery of the nature and maintenance of chromosome ends and their roles in cancer and aging.’
The L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards was created in 1998 by Prof. Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize Laureate in Medicine (1974), to acknowledge women who have played a role to the advancement of science. Every year, it announces five laureates from Asia-Pacific, Africa-Arab, Europe, Latin America and North America.
A woman of guts
But Dr. Al-Gazali’s success was not instantaneous and easy. She has to hurdle what a mother, a wife and a career woman has to face all at the same time. “I came from Baghdad, Iraq. When I was there, I noticed the children seem to have illnesses that no one can detect, so I became interested in genetic technology and studied it in England.”
“When I came to the UAE in 1990, it was basically only to expose my children to the Arab culture. But then I found out many other genetic diseases that are very unique in this population they were not even mentioned in Western lectures. Those have kept me going,” she added.
Currently, her research bordered on dysmorphology and recessive disorders in Arab populations. She also wrote and co-wrote about 130 peer-reviewed publications. “There was no genetic service when I came here. I started it myself, and we are still trying to build a laboratory for it. The problem only is the lack funds.”
“We have more experience than those abroad because we know firsthand about the genetic diseases here. Even the West cannot always diagnose these diseases. But then, it is just in the culture of the people here to seek medical treatment outside the UAE.”
To those who disagree with the progress of genetic technology, Dr. Al-Gazali can only say that most of their researches have helped patients anyway. “People my have differing opinions about it, but the aim of the scientists is to help the patients. Most of our researches have helped our patients.”
Dr. Al-Gazali also advises other people still shaping their careers to ‘work and persevere.’ “I always tell my children – I have two girls and a boy – to work and persevere. If something fails, go on. You may have failed at that time but it does not mean that you would fail in the end. Never give up.”