For the 7th consecutive year, L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program continues to recognize Arab female scientists from the GCC region for their comprehensive researches in the fields of Computer Science, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Mathematics. The program awarded 6 winners in the Post-Doctorate Researchers and PhD Students categories, including Qatari scientist and researcher Dr. Isra Yousef Marei, this year.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program has recognized Dr. Marei for her research towards the development of 3D vascular drug screening platforms based on endothelial progenitor cells. As part of the recognition, Dr. Marei has also been awarded a grant worth EUR 20,000 to support her journey in the sciences.
ILQ had the chance to interview Dr. Isra Marei regarding her research and her recent award. Let’s find out more about her inspiring journey.
ILQ: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Dr. Marei: I’m a postdoctoral research associate in pharmacology at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (a member of Qatar Foundation). I obtained my BSc in biomedical sciences from Qatar University and was honoured to join the Qatar Science Leadership program (a Qatar Foundation initiative) to complete my postgraduate studies in Imperial College London. I’m a holder of an MRes in biomedical research and a PhD in clinical medicine research, specializing in tissue engineering.
ILQ: Please tell us a little bit about your research and its focus.
Dr. Marei: The focus of my research is on the use of endothelial progenitor cells for pre-clinical drug testing. This work aims to use these cells to “engineer” a 3D vascular graft to screen drugs. Drug screening is currently based on 2D culture systems, a format that doesn’t exactly reflect the physiological environment of the native vessel. Blood vessels are naturally formed of multiple layers of cells, embedded within a gelatinous material. Additionally, the blood flows through the vessel creating forces on the cells covering the vessel wall. In this sophisticated structure, the cells are affected by the blood components, the surrounding cells, the gelatinous material, and the forces created due to blood movement. Thus, there is a need to replicate these conditions to further predict how drugs will interact with the cells under physiological conditions.
The development of a 3D vascular graft might provide a solution, and the use of endothelial progenitor cells might also lead to a personalized medicine approach. We are currently in the process of designing a mold to engineer the graft, with the participation of four of our most brilliant medical students (supported by UREP/QNRF).
ILQ: What do you feel about the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme and how is it going to help you with your career?
Dr. Marei: The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Programme is a great opportunity that helps women scientists to boost their carrier. This programme will take my research to the next level and will improve the outcomes of my research and strengthen my academic profile. Furthermore, being a part of this programme will allow my research to be recognized and will give me more opportunities to communicate with professionals in the field.
ILQ: How is the science scene for women in Qatar?
Dr. Marei: National and governmental efforts have been made to enhance the role of women in science, and as a result, the number of women pursuing a career in science has significantly increased in the past few years. This is a huge step towards diversity and inclusion in the scientific sector. It is also important to focus on the persistence of these young scientists and their continued development.
ILQ: How has your journey in the research field been so far?
Dr. Marei: Exciting, very challenging and never boring! Conducting research in biomedical sciences is inspiring and enjoyable. However, this journey was not easy; I had to work very hard to be recognized. My career in science started during my BSc, when I conducted an undergraduate research project as a part of the biomedical sciences curriculum. I realized then that I wanted to be a researcher. I was lucky to have tremendous support from my mentors and my family to pursue a career in science. I started as a research specialist to gain some technical experience and then moved to complete my postgraduate studies, and then to start my career as a scientist.
ILQ: How, according to you are women scientists doing at a global level?
Dr. Marei: Unfortunately, women in academia face a lot of challenges, which might discourage young female students and postgraduates from pursuing a career in scientific research. Despite the global efforts to empower women scientists, women are still underrepresented to varying degrees across the world. Additionally, the development and progression of female scientists is slower than is wished for. This is one of many factors that affect women’s interest in science and academia. Nevertheless, these challenges should not stop women from building a career in science. There is a greater recognition of these issues globally and a move towards achieving diversity and balance, and the interaction of more female scientists will help to achieve this aim.
ILQ: Do you have a message for women and students in general, aspiring to shine in STEM education in Qatar?
Dr. Marei: My message to women is to be ambitious and to have the strength and persistence to pursue their goals. Always have a clear picture of your goals, objectives, and what you can offer to the world. Build a firm background and be aware of your field, because by knowledge you will be valued for your merit and expertise. Knowledge is always the key to confidence and building your confidence will help you to achieve your goals. Finally, bear in mind that research in any discipline is not only a career, but an opportunity to explore the best ways to improve our lives.