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A research periodical issued by the Ministry of Education of the United Arab Emirates Issue 03

May 2021

DEVELOPING A NEW FLEXIBLE BIOSENSOR F O R P R E C I S I O N H E A LT H C A R E

EXPLORING HOW COVID-19 IMPACTED THE COUNTRY’S ENVIRONMENT MICROALGAL GENOME SEQUENCING REVEALS A VIRAL LEGACY ENSURING THE SECURITY OF CLOUD-ASSISTED AND IOT-INTEGRATED SMART CITIES TRACKING THE IMPACT OF WATERPIPE SMOKE ON LUNG CANCER MALIGNANCY

www.moe.gov.ae


Contents 02 Welcome 04 News 14 Features 34 Profiles 46 Science for Kids 52 Events Calendar

14 Developing a New Flexible Biosensor for Precision Healthcare

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Exploring How COVID-19 Impacted the Country’s Environment

Microalgal Genome Sequencing Reveals a Viral Legacy

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Ensuring the Security of Cloud-Assisted and IoT-Integrated Smart Cities

Tracking the Impact of Waterpipe Smoke on Lung Cancer Malignancy

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From a Small Algerian Village to the Large Hadron Collider

Happiness Through Oncology Excellence

-Dr. Rachik Soualah

-Dr. Shaheenah Dawood

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WELCOME TO OUR THIRD ISSUE The UAE has achieved many notable firsts in the past few months. It became the first country in the region to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine, called Hayat-Vax. It announced the selection of the first Arab female astronaut, Eng. Nora AlMatrooshi. And with the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant becoming operational, it became the first Arab nation to produce nuclear energy. The one thing that each of these three achievements has in common is the availability of high-quality technicians, engineers, and scientists in the UAE, particularly Emirati ones. Producing such talent in the UAE requires the provision of quality higher education in the fields of science and engineering. That is what we at the Ministry of Education work so hard to provide. The efforts we lead to provide student scholarships, to certify and rank the quality of our higher education institutions, to provide research funding, and more, enable the UAE’s higher education institutes and their researchers to achieve their highest potential. This in turn contributes to an innovation pipeline that produces human

and intellectual capital that uplifts the UAE, helping it to reach further and higher. In this issue of Innovation@UAE Magazine, we focus on some of the recent contributions to this innovation pipeline in the form of research achievements from higher education institutes and their researchers, with a particular focus on health. Over half of the stories in this issue touch upon healthrelated disciplines, including bioinformatics, genomics, health information technology, and public health. Topics include the development of new flexible biosensors, COVID-19 shutdown impacts on urban air quality, shisha smoke effects on lung cancer cells, and a profile of one of the UAE’s leading cancer researchers, Dr. Shaheenah Dawood. We hope you find this issue of Innovation@ UAE Magazine to be informative and inspiring.

His Excellency Dr. Mohammad Al-Mualla Undersecretary for Academic Affairs Ministry of Education

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NEWS

ADU STUDENTS WIN EMIRATES GLOBAL ALUMINIUM AI ROBOT COMPETITION Student teams from Abu Dhabi University’s (ADU) Colleges of Electronics and Communications Engineering (ECE) and Mechanical, Electrical and Computer (MEC) secured three of the top four positions at the 2020 Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA) AI Robot competition, winning prizes totaling AED 80,000. The competition set a challenge for university students to develop an autonomous device to measure the condition of EGA’s baking furnace pits, which operate at very high temperatures. The first prize winning team, composed of Maha Yaghi, Tasnim Basmaji, Abdullah Rashed and Marah AlHalabi, developed an autonomous drone that was built and tested at ADU’s state-of-the-art laboratories. The drone is capable of capturing aerial images to map out the furnaces and uses artificial intelligence to analyze the image

data. As well as receiving a cash prize of AED 70,000, the students’ prototype will now be developed and manufactured for use at EGA’s smelters, reducing the need for manual inspections in extreme conditions. Speaking on behalf of her team, Maha Yaghi said, “EGA is an industrial technology pioneer in the UAE, so it was exciting to work at their plant to develop and trial our drone prototype. Competitions like this really show us students possible career paths in STEM and how we can practically use our university-gained knowledge to support the UAE’s further industrialization.” ADU students Abdelrahman Mohamed, Ahmed Eikhawad, Abdelrahman Gomma, and Aghyad Al Tahhan, won third place, and were awarded AED 10,000. ADU student team composed of Omar Elayyan, Hisham Ghazal, Mohammed Redha, and Yazeed Eldigair won fourth place.

ADU students Maha Yaghi and Marah Alhalabi working on their award-winning drone Source: https://www.ega.ae/en/media-releases/2021/april/al-robot

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AUS STUDENT TEAM WINS BEST PAPER AWARD AT IEEE CONFERENCE

“OUR TEAM HOPES TO ULTIMATELY CREATE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE EXPERIENCES OF BOTH PATIENTS AND CLINIC STAFF, WHICH SUFFER FROM ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES OF MEDICAL NO-SHOWS” OMAR EL BOUTARI AUS COMPUTER ENGINEERING STUDENT

A student team from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) was awarded “Best Paper” at the IEEE 2020 International Conference on Internet of Things and Intelligence System (IoTaIS 2020). The paper detailed their innovative solution to reduce the frequency of medical no-shows – when a patient fails to attend a scheduled appointment with a healthcare provider. Medical no-shows are considered one of the major challenges facing the global healthcare sector. When a patient fails to appear for an appointment, hospitals and outpatient clinics incur high costs to cover the cost of resources, such as medical equipment and in-house staff. It’s estimated no-shows cost the US healthcare system more than $150 billion each year. In addition to the economic implications, missed appointments pose a serious risk to patient health, interrupting continuity of care and vital screenings, which can mean acute illnesses are more likely to go untreated.

While healthcare facilities are attempting to mitigate the problem through overbooking and live reminder calls, these methods can be costly in terms of staffing and bothersome to patients. Computer engineering majors Omar El Boutari, Tasneem Batool, and Mostafa Abuelnoor sought to address the issue by developing a machine learning model that uses existing patient datasets to predict the likelihood of a patient missing an appointment. The Appointment Scheduling and Intuitive Management (ASIM) system also allows medical administrators to take steps to minimize the issue and streamlines patient registration and appointment scheduling via a mobile app. Speaking on behalf of his fellow teammates, El Boutari said, “With this system, our team hopes to ultimately create a positive impact on the experiences of both patients and clinic staff, which suffer from adverse consequences of medical no-shows.”

Source: https://www.aus.edu/media/news/cen-student-team-wins-best-paper-award-at-ieee-conference


NEWS

KU’S DHABISAT REACHES THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION DhabiSat, the second CubeSat designed and developed by Khalifa University students with support from Al Yah Satellite Company (Yahsat) and Northrop Grumman, has reached the International Space Station. The miniature satellite, developed by 27 graduate students, was successfully launched on 20 February 2021 from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, United States, aboard the Cygnus NG-15 spacecraft and the Northrop Grumman Antares rocket. It will spend two to three months gathering data for space research before returning to Earth. DhabiSat is equipped with a highresolution camera that can capture images from an altitude of 450 kilometers. During its mission, the satellite will also test custom software modules developed by students at Yahsat Space Lab, which is part of the Khalifa University Space Technology and Innovation Center (KUSTIC).

The new algorithms developed for the satellite’s attitude determination and control subsystem (ADCS) will improve the DhabiSat’s pointing accuracy and response time to changes in attitude, as well as help to inform future CubeSat missions. The DhabiSat launch is part of KU’s ongoing focus on training a new cadre of youth to become qualified engineers to support the growing space sector in the UAE.

THE MINIATURE SATELLITE, DEVELOPED BY 27 GRADUATE STUDENTS, WAS SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHED ON 20 FEBRUARY 2021 FROM THE WALLOPS FLIGHT FACILITY IN VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES

Source: Clarence Michael, English Editor Specialist, Khalifa University, https://www.ku.ac.ae/khalifa-universitys-dhabisat-set-forlaunch-on-20-february-from-aboard-cygnus

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KU RESEARCHERS INTEGRATE DEEP LEARNING WITH SMARTPHONES TO DETECT PARKINSON’S

EARLY DETECTION OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE IS CRUCIAL TO MANAGING SYMPTOMS AND SLOWING THE DISEASE’S PROGRESSION, BUT ITS EARLY SIGNS ARE OFTEN MISSED

A team of researchers at Khalifa University (KU) has developed a new tool that can help detect early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease using sensors from the average smartphone. Parkinson’s disease is the fastestgrowing neurological disorder, affecting more than 10 million people worldwide. Early detection of the disease is crucial for managing symptoms and slowing the disease’s progression. However, the finemotor impairment (FMI) associated with its early stages, such as barely noticeable hand tremors, are often missed. In collaboration with researchers from Greece, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the KU team led by Dr. Leontios Hadjileontiadis, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, introduced a deep learning framework that analyzes data captured by the phone’s sensors. The system uses deep learning algorithms to detect and monitor subtle

motor skill degradation. In addition to monitoring tremors, it looks for patterns in keystroke dynamics, such as “hold time,” the time interval between the press and release of a key. The rate at which a person presses down and then releases a finger on a key indicates how quickly the brain can control the muscles. Using these techniques, the team achieved 92.8% sensitivity and 86.2% specificity in disease detection. An article on the research was published in the journal Scientific Reports. “Using a smartphone provides an unobtrusive way of capturing data,” explained Dr. Hadjileontiadis. “This is a solid first step towards a highperforming remote Parkinson’s disease detection system that can be used to discreetly monitor subjects and urge them to visit a doctor if signs of the disease are detected.”

Source: Jade Sterling, Science Writer, Khalifa University https://www.ku.ac.ae/detecting-parkinsons-disease-using-deep-learning-techniquesfrom-smart-phone-data


NEWS

MBRU PROFESSOR UNVEILS BREAKTHROUGH STUDY INTO MOLECULAR MOTOR PROTEIN

THE RESEARCH SERVES TO DEEPEN THE KNOWLEDGE OF MOLECULAR FUNCTION IN THE HOPE OF FINDING A POTENTIAL CURE FOR DEBILITATING BRAIN DISORDERS

An Emirati biophysicist from Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU) has published critical new insights into the activation of dynein, a type of cellular motor protein that moves cargo along a network of tracks called microtubules. Dynein is important for a number of cellular functions in the human body. Defects in the motor protein are linked to neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Dr. Saif Al Qassim, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at MBRU, collaborated with a team from the University of Pennsylvania on the research, which was published in Nature Communications. In the study, the researchers sought to enhance understanding of dynein’s ability to move

independently. Dynein can only move along microtubules when it binds to another activating adaptor, dynactin, which is a multiprotein complex. The team combined crystal structures with biophysical quantitative binding and conducted a series of motility experiments that revealed molecular details of a crucial interaction between the activating adaptors and LIS1 (lissencephaly-1 gene), a protein responsible for regulating dynein’s activity. The interaction demonstrated the vital role of LIS1 in dynein’s processive motility, or its ability to move in one direction without detaching. The research serves to deepen the knowledge of molecular function in the hope of finding a potential cure for debilitating brain disorders. “I am honored to be a part of this research project that has produced thought-provoking results and shines a light on a fundamental interaction that regulates dynein transport machinery, which will provide a solid foundation for development of treatment methodologies for a variety of associated diseases,” said Dr. Al Qassim.

Dr. Saif Al Qassim Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at MBRU Source: https://www.mbru.ac.ae/news/emirati-biophysicist-joins-select-club-of-researchers-to-be-published-in-leading-scientificjournal-nature-communications/

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NYUAD TEAM SHEDS NEW LIGHT ON BIOLUMINESCENCE A team of researchers from the Smart Materials Lab (SML) at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has discovered new insights into bioluminescence, a fascinating natural phenomenon that causes living things to produce light in their bodies through a series of chemical reactions. Led by NYUAD Professor of Chemistry Dr. Panĉe Naumov, the research, which featured on the cover of the prestigious journal Nature Reviews Chemistry, provides the most comprehensive critical overview of bioluminescence in beetles, including fireflies, to date. In the report “The Elusive Relationship Between Structure and Color Emission in Beetle Luciferases,” Dr. Naumov, along with post-doctoral associates Dr. César Carrasco-López and Dr. Stefan Schramm, and undergraduate student Nathan M. Lui, identified the intricate structural factors that govern what color of light is emitted by luciferases, the enzymes that produce bioluminescence.

Their findings determined that it is possible to build a library of bioluminescent enzymes in the future, which will enable researchers to control the color and intensity of light emission by engineering luciferases at will. Bioluminescence has long fascinated scientists, and in recent years the phenomenon has proved a useful biomedical diagnostic tool, particularly in cancer research. The fluorescent proteins are genetically inserted into cells to analyze the dynamics of some diseases. “Learning from nature will provide us with tools to engineer luciferases that can emit colors within a large range of energies,” Dr. Naumov said. “This will eventually help us expand the range of application of these and similar enzymes for some exciting applications in biology and medicine, including early diagnosis and prevention of diseases.”

Source: https://nyuad.nyu.edu/en/news/latest-news/science-and-technology/2020/december/light-emission-fireflies.html


NEWS

RIT Dubai students accepting the Software AG Future Disruptors Award at GITEX

RIT DUBAI STUDENTS WIN SOFTWARE AG FUTURE DISRUPTORS AWARD

THE FUTURE DISRUPTORS AWARD NURTURES INNOVATION AND INSPIRES UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS TO DEVELOP CUTTINGEDGE SOLUTIONS TO REALWORLD CHALLENGES

A student team from Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai (RIT Dubai) has won Software AG’s inaugural Future Disruptors Award for their innovative industrial project that uses sensors to enable real-time monitoring of pipelines, instant leakage detection, and leak remediation. The winning project, “Smart pipelines: Remote control and monitoring”, was developed by RIT Dubai students majoring in electrical engineering and computing security, and presented at GITEX, Dubai’s leading technology event, in December 2020. The students were awarded a trophy and will have internship and career opportunities at Software AG upon completion of their academic studies. The Future Disruptors Award is intended to nurture innovation and inspire undergraduate students from UAE universities to develop cutting-

edge solutions to real-world challenges through digital infrastructure software. The team, which included Saifeldin Hassan, Aeysha Raza, Maryam Najjar, Manan Agarwal, Kajol Jethani, and Huzaifa Khambaty, was mentored by Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Jinane Al Mounsef, and Assistant Professor of Networking and Computing Security Dr. Ali Raza. Electrical Engineering and Computing Sciences Department Chair Dr. Muhieddin Amer sponsored the team. Commenting on the students’ win, Dr. Raza said, “The academic rigor and competence of the students coupled with professional mentorship led to a successful outcome for the project, which was challenging at the outset with the COVID-19 pandemic. To see the combined team from the electrical engineering and computing science programs come this far, overcome the challenges and win, is really humbling.”

Source: https://www.biznesstransform.com/software-ag-gives-future-disruptors-award-to-rit-dubai-for-smart-pipelines-project/

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UAEU PROJECT REVEALS THE IMPACT OF DIESEL EXHAUST ON GASTRIC STEM CELLS Researchers at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) have shed new light on the impact of environmental toxins on gastrointestinal stem cells. Their findings, published in the reputed journal Life, determined that gastric stem cells are able to resist oxidative stress and programmed cell death when exposed to relatively high levels of diesel exhaust particles, but at the expense of their unique stem cell properties. The research, conducted by Dr. Sherif Karam, Dr. Abdulrahim Nammar, Dr. Samir Atoub, Master’s student Heba Al-Siddiq, and PhD student Subi Sugathan, has contributed to a better understanding of the impact of environmental pollution on the cells, which is linked to gastric cancer, one of the leading causes of cancer deaths worldwide. The findings could

even play a role in the development of disease treatment. The research team conducted their experiments on a mouse gastric stem cell line established in UAEU’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences laboratory. The experiments involved adding increasing quantities of diesel exhaust particles to the stem cells over a period of 72 hours. The cells were then examined for oxidative stress, motility, and reproduction, in addition to the activity of genes associated with their reproduction, their ability to transform into other cells, and programmed cell death. The experiment’s intriguing findings revealed that diesel particles only cause cell activity to decrease at a high concentration of 100 micrograms per milliliter. While the exposure does not affect cell mobility, oxidative stress markers or the proteins or genes associated with cell death, it was found to decrease the production of Notch and BMI-1 – which play a role in the progression of cancer – and the activation of STAT3, which stem cells use to regulate their transformation into other cells.

Source: https://www.uaeu.ac.ae/en/news/2021/jan/uaeu-research-effect-of-automobile-exhaust-on-gastric-stem-cells.shtml


NEWS

UOS STUDENT PROJECTS WIN TOP PRIZES AT SHARJAH CHAMBER’S AWARD FOR INNOVATORS

SHARJAH CHAMBER’S AWARD FOR INNOVATORS FOSTERS INNOVATION AND SKILL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENTS IN THE EMIRATE

Three University of Sharjah (UOS) student research projects have won top positions in the Scientific Research Category at Sharjah Chamber’s Award for Innovators, which took place in February 2021. The award, sponsored by the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCI) and organized by UOS, fosters innovation and skill development opportunities for students in the emirate. Shawq Al Shehhi, Shaima Mohammed, and Aisha Al Naqbi, from the UOS College of Engineering, won second place for their project “Hybrid Seawater Desalination Plant Powered Using Solar Photovoltaics Energy.” The project, which transforms seawater into freshwater using renewable energy, responded to the challenges posed by freshwater scarcity, environmental

damage from the use of fossil fuels, and the pressing need for energy efficiency. Saadia Liaqat, from the UOS College of Science, won third place for her project “A New Technique for Analyzing Fingerprints Using Spices,” which proposed a novel and cost-effective technology to detect fingerprints using the chemical compounds in different spices. Hudhaifa Al-Rifai and Maryam Orabi from the UOS College of Computing and Informatics were awarded fourth place for their project “Diagnosing COVID-19 with CT Scan Using Artificial Intelligence.” During their experiment, the students used models of CT scans of patients and healthy people to train the artificial intelligence system and evaluate its effectiveness in detecting COVID-19.

UOS students Hudhaifa Al-Rifai and Maryam Orabi with their fourth-place winning project Source: https://www.sharjah.ac.ae/en/Media/Pages/news-details.aspx?mcid=853&clt=en

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Khawla Hammad Co-founder and CEO of Takalam

ZAYED UNIVERSITY ALUMNA START-UP WINS ENTREPRENEUR MIDDLE EAST AWARD Takalam, a mental health start-up co-founded by a Zayed University (ZU) alumna, was named “Wellness Platform of the Year” at the Entrepreneur Middle East Enterprise Agility Awards, which recognize innovative businesses and individuals across the region. Takalam (Arabic for “speak”) is an online counseling service that connects users with qualified mental health professionals for one-to-one sessions through video, audio, and instant messaging, in both Arabic and English. The platform launched last year with the aim of eliminating the barriers and stigma associated with seeking mental health support. It currently caters to individuals, couples, and groups, and also offers an Employee Wellbeing Program to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace. Offering convenience, affordability, and anonymity, Takalam has received

widespread praise for encouraging more people to seek the help they need. By enabling practitioners to digitize their services, clinics and therapists are able to scale their offerings with marginal costs. Takalam co-founder and CEO, Khawla Hammad, who received support from the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at ZU, said the platform is intended to “empower individuals and employers to access support in a manner that promotes understanding, accessibility, and affordability.” Commenting on Takalam’s success, ZU’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center Director Dr. Wasseem Abaza said, “We are very proud of what they have achieved so far and look forward to what they will achieve in the future.”

Source: https://www.zu.ac.ae/main/en/news/2021/January/takalam.aspx


FEATURES

DEVELOPING A NEW FLEXIBLE BIOSENSOR FOR PRECISION HEALTHCARE Both personalization and smart technologies are increasingly playing a role in our lives – and the healthcare industry is no exception. To that end, a team of researchers led by the American University of Sharjah has developed a flexible biosensor for enhanced precision healthcare. Like industries such as banking, retail, and manufacturing, healthcare is expected to focus heavily on personalization and integration of smart technologies in the near future. Health biosensors combine both goals, with biocompatible electrodes implanted into the body to allow for monitoring of specific health metrics and even treatment of certain health conditions. Electrode-based biosensors, or bioelectrodes, typically have three parts: a biological-sensing component, a detector or transducer component, and a signalprocessing system. In the context of health, biosensors are analytical devices that convert a biological response into an electrical signal that conveys important information relating to the health of a patient, like blood glucose levels. Medical biosensors are typically either worn on the skin or implanted in the body. Of these two modalities, implantable biosensors are the more challenging, as they must be small enough to be safely inserted into the body and remain stable over long periods of time. They must also be structurally and chemically suited to

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function within the body without being damaged or causing damage. Currently, most biosensors are made of precious metals like platinum, which makes them expensive to produce. They also tend to be too rough or rigid for use in the soft tissues of the human body. Drilling down even further, implantable (neural) electrodes are becoming a very promising tool of clinical practice in the treatment of brain injury and neurodegenerative disease by recording nerve signals and stimulating nerve tissue. Neural electrodes are already being used in deep brain stimulation for treatment of conditions like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. However, the sensitivity and softness of nerve tissue makes it hard to implant such biosensors for lengthy periods of time as the materials typically used to make them can inflame – and even damage – such tissue. In contribution to advancing precision medicine, a team of researchers led by the American University of Sharjah (AUS) has developed a low-cost and stretchable


FEATURES

“THE MOST SURPRISING FINDING FROM OUR RESEARCH WAS HOW WELL THE MATERIAL BEHAVED WHEN SUBJECTED TO THE LONG-TERM TEST, WHICH WAS DONE BY IMMERSING IT IN BODY-LIKE FLUIDS FOR SEVERAL WEEKS” Dr. Amani Al-Othman Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering American University of Sharjah

THE RESEARCH TEAM HOPES ITS NOVEL BIOSENSOR CAN EVENTUALLY BRIDGE THE GAP FROM LAB TO MARKET IN ORDER TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE COUNTRY ACHIEVING WORLD-CLASS HEALTHCARE, WHICH IS ONE OF THE UAE’S NATIONAL PRIORITIES

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biosensing electrode that can be implanted into the nervous system. The research team was composed of AUS Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Dr. Amani Al-Othman, AUS Professor of Electrical Engineering Dr. Hasan Al-Nashash, AUS Biomedical Engineering graduate Omnia Mohamed, AUS Professor of Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Sciences Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayah, and University of Sharjah Assistant Professor of Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineering Dr. Muhammad Tawalbeh. Dr. Fares Almomani, Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Qatar University, and Dr. Mashallah Rezakazemi, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Shahrood University of Technology in Iran, also contributed to the research. Dr. Al-Othman explained the limitations of existing technology: “The nervous system is composed of delicate tissue, and the current electrodes are very stiff. They can damage the soft tissues in addition to being very expensive. Therefore, we aimed at developing a low-cost and flexible implantable electrode to treat peripheral nerve injuries.” To overcome these limitations, a team of researchers from the Neuroengineering Research Group at AUS combined nanoscale titanium dioxide with polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) in a silicone polymer matrix.

Titanium dioxide is an inert powder used as a semiconductor, while PMMA is a biocompatible form of acrylic used in drug delivery as well orthopedic procedures to adhere bones. Silicone is a common material used in medical applications because it is durable, highly flexible, and chemically stable. Glycerol – a common food additive – was also used to improve the mixing process. The researchers tested a number of different ratios of silicone, PMMA, titanium dioxide, and glycerol to find the one that demonstrated the best conduction. They found the best sample to be a combination of 50% silicone, 15% PMMA, 15% titanium dioxide, and 20% glycerol. The resulting bio-electrode was then subjected to characterization studies to measure its electron-transfer properties and kinetics, mechanical properties, and surface morphology alongside the stability of its electrochemical reactions. They also subjected the bio-electrode to a few weeks of immersion in a liquid solution meant to mimic the environment in the human body, taking it out on a weekly basis to see how its functional characteristics changed over time. Testing of the team’s bio-electrode found it to have better resistance than graphene and platinum. Not only did observations reveal the biosensor to be stable over time, but its surface proved smoother than the plastics and metals typically used. The bio-electrode was also found to be highly elastic and stretchable, similar to the flexibility of skin and the spinal cord. The charge storage capacity of the electrodes was higher than both platinum and titanium, showing that the novel biosensor was better able to retain its charge than the currently available materials. “The most surprising finding from our research was how well the material behaved when subjected to the long-term test, which was done by immersing it in body-like fluids for several weeks. We are very pleased that we were able to produce


a bio-electrode material that is flexible and robust while low in cost, which has great potential for use in neural-sensing applications,” Dr. Al-Othman shared. A paper on this project titled “Fabrication of titanium dioxide nanomaterial for implantable highly flexible composite bioelectrode for biosensing applications” is scheduled for publication in the June 2021 issue of peer-reviewed scientific journal Chemosphere. Now that the team has demonstrated the basic functionality of its low-cost biosensor, the next step is to test its biocompatibility in vivo by implanting it in live laboratory animals. “The fabricated electrodes in this work offer competitive characteristics, thus supporting their use in implantableelectrode applications. The bio-electrode also demonstrated promising impedance over the three-week immersion period. Although all the materials used in the electrodes’ fabrication are biocompatible, future studies should be directed at evaluating the biocompatibility of this

composite electrode,” the research team wrote in its paper. The researchers hope their novel biosensor can eventually make the leap from lab to market in order to contribute to the country achieving world-class healthcare, which is one of the UAE’s national priorities. The development of medical devices and other health-improving innovations is also a focus of the country’s Science, Technology & Innovation Policy as part of its efforts to boost the country’s non-oil economy. The global biosensor market is expected to reach $35.7 billion in value by 2025, according to Market Research Future. “Healthcare is among the UAE’s priorities for its strategic development. The successful implementation of an implantable electrode like ours will certainly contribute to this vision of developing innovative and sustainable solutions to the many challenges faced by the country today, including the health sector,” Dr. Al-Othman concluded.

Title of published paper

Fabrication of titanium dioxide nanomaterial for implantable highly flexible composite bio-electrode for biosensing applications

Published in Chemosphere

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 5.778, Q1, H-index: 228, Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR): 1.53

Project funded by

Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program at the American University of Sharjah

Left to right: Omnia Mohamed, Dr. Hasan Al-Nashash, Dr. Amani Al-Othman, Dr. Muhammad Tawalbeh, Dr. Mohammad Al-Sayah


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EXPLORING HOW COVID-19 IMPACTED THE COUNTRY’S ENVIRONMENT The unprecedented events of 2020 brought with them an opportunity to study how restrictions on movement and activity affected air quality and urban temperature in the UAE.

If you stood on your balcony in the midst of last year’s lockdown, you may have felt the air was a little bit clearer, the weather a little bit cooler. And it wasn’t your imagination. Research led by United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) faculty has found that pandemic-related restrictions on movement and industrial activity had a direct effect on both air quality and temperature in urban areas. Conducted by a team of researchers led by Dr. Abduldaem S. Alqasemi from UAEU, the study came about as a result of the changes to daily life caused by COVID-19. It is the first of its kind, combining analysis of Urban Heat Island (UHI) intensity and air quality in the UAE. UHI refers to an urban area that is significantly warmer than its surroundings. This is caused mainly by the relative lack of vegetation compared to rural/suburban areas, the structures and built-up area, and the activities of its inhabitants – emissions from vehicles, factories, and even air conditioning units. UHI is considered one of the most noticeable negative consequences of rapid urbanization on the climate and environment. The increased temperature

in urban areas often translates to an increased use of energy for cooling, which indirectly contributes to climate change, environmental degradation, air pollution, and poor health outcomes for humans – the severity of coronavirus infection included. A recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that longterm exposure to polluted air correlated to higher COVID-19 mortality. Given that the local response to the pandemic has included temporary emiratewide lockdowns, school closures, shifting of office work to work-from-home, and general reduction of movement and industrial activities, Dr. Alqasemi and his collaborators realized there was likely to be an impact on the surface UHI intensity (SUHII) and other environmental metrics. SUHII is defined as a difference in land surface temperature (LST) between urban and rural areas, and therefore requires observations on both. Recalling the events of last year, Dr. Alqasemi said, “The whole world has been affected by the pandemic. People were forced to change their daily activities, and when there is a large change of this kind, it affects the

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environment. We had an idea to study how COVID-19-related changes impacted the UAE’s air quality and UHI at the same time that many other researchers were investigating the pandemic’s impact on other places.” His co-authors on the paper included Dr. Mohamed E. Hereher, Professor of Environmental Earth Science at Damietta University in Egypt; Dr. Gordana Kaplan, Assistant Professor at Institute of Earth and Space Sciences at Eskisehir Technical University in Turkey; Dr. Ayad M. Fadhil Al-Quraishi, Professor of Applied Remote Sensing and GIS at Tishk International University in Iraq; and Dr. Hakim Saibi, Associate Professor of Geology at UAEU.

Left to right: Dr. Hakim Saibi and Dr. Abduldaem S. Alqasemi

“WE HAD AN IDEA TO STUDY HOW COVID-19RELATED CHANGES IMPACTED THE UAE’S AIR QUALITY AND UHI AT THE SAME TIME THAT MANY OTHER RESEARCHERS WERE INVESTIGATING THE PANDEMIC’S IMPACT ON OTHER PLACES” Dr. Abduldaem S. Alqasemi United Arab Emirates University

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The team members focused their observation on Dubai and the Northern Emirates of the UAE, which includes Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah, Fujairah, and Ajman. This area was selected as the project’s focus due to the fact that 71% of the country’s population falls within this region, making its study highly relevant to the wider country. To quantify the impact of reduced transportation and industrial activity on the urban environment in the six targeted emirates, researchers gathered data on nitrogen dioxide, aerosol optical depth (AOD), and temperature from both satellites and on-ground meteorological stations. Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic gas that is produced through vehicle emissions, power plants, and other types of combustion engine-powered machinery. AOD, meanwhile, is a measure of how particles in the atmosphere block sunlight by scattering it. Data on PM2.5 levels, a measure of fine particulate matter found in the air that is 2.5 micrometers in size, was gathered by researchers in order to assess the AOD. Fine inhalable particles of this sort – be they solid or liquid – are particularly dangerous to humans as they can be absorbed into the lungs and bloodstream. Data on these three major metrics was gathered for the March-June 2020 period, corresponding to when the UAE imposed a daily curfew from 8pm to 6am in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This was compared to data from March-June 2019, when urban activity was normal. The researchers then analyzed the air quality and temperature-related data for the lockdown period and compared it to the previous year. As for what the data revealed? A dramatic drop in SUHII – an average reduction of 19.2% – alongside a 12.2% average reduction in nitrogen levels and 3.7% average drop in AOD. A paper on this research was published in Science of the Total Environment, an international


A GLOBAL REPORT RELEASED BY SWISS AIR QUALITY TECHNOLOGY COMPANY IQAIR REVEALED THAT ROUGHLY 65% OF CITIES ANALYZED EXPERIENCED BETTER AIR QUALITY IN 2020 COMPARED TO 2019 DUE TO CORONAVIRUS-RELATED RESTRICTIONS ON ACTIVITY

multi-disciplinary journal for publication of novel, hypothesis-driven, high-impact research on the total environment. Drilling down by emirate, the SUHII decline was strongest in Fujairah (28.6%) followed by Ras Al Khaimah (23%), Umm Al Quwain (18.8%), Sharjah (17.3%), Dubai (15%), and Ajman (12.3%). Nitrogen dioxide reduction levels by emirate saw the greatest decrease in Ras Al Khaimah (18.6%) followed by Umm Al Quwain (18%), Ajman (13%), Fujairah (11.6%), Dubai (7.6%), and Sharjah (5.4%). The AOD decline was highest in Ajman (5.7%) followed by Umm Al Quwain (5.3%), Sharjah (3.4%), Fujairah (3.1%), Ras Al Khaimah (3.1%), and Dubai (1.7%). The overall reductions seen in nitrogen dioxide and temperature were attributed to reduced transportation and industrial activity at the onset of the pandemic, including running of heavy machinery, burning of biomass, and emissions from factories. Meanwhile, the relatively smaller reduction in AOD was attributed to the lower levels of precipitation recorded in 2020 compared to 2019, causing more sand and dust to remain in the atmosphere.

The link between COVID-19 shutdowns and improved air quality recorded in Dubai and the Northern Emirates of the UAE is in line with research around the world. A global report released by Swiss air quality technology company IQAir revealed that roughly 65% of cities analyzed experienced better air quality in 2020 compared to 2019 due to coronavirusrelated restrictions on activity. Another major outcome of the project was the validation of satellite-derived measurements. “The high correlation satellite-derived measurements on pollutants and SUHII to actual measurements on the ground proves that satellites can serve as a significant and reliable resource for researching air quality and SUHII because of the spatial coverage and cost-effectiveness of the data, especially for developing countries like the UAE,” Dr. Alqasemi stated. The study also contributed to the establishment of a benchmarking paradigm that can assist the UAE government with future and ongoing management of air quality and SUHII.

Title of published paper

Impact of COVID-19 lockdown upon the air quality and surface urban heat island intensity over the UAE

Published in

Science of the Total Environment

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 6.551, Q1, H-index: 224,, Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR): 1.66

Project funded by

United Arab Emirates University


FEATURES

MICROALGAL GENOME SEQUENCING REVEALS A VIRAL LEGACY The ability of algae species to inhabit specific environments is facilitated by genes acquired from viruses by their ancient ancestors, according to a study led by New York University Abu Dhabi.

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Algae form a diverse category of organisms that, like plants, produce oxygen through photosynthesis. However, unlike multicellular plants, they can be single-celled organisms, multi-celled organisms, or even colonies of organisms. Algae are primarily located in water but can also be found on land and in microhabitats. For example, they live in the fur on the backs of sloths and within the translucent bodies of marine slugs in unique symbiotic relationships. Algae can be large (like the giant sea kelp that grows up to 45 meters) or small (like the microscopic phytoplankton). While algae may be considered uninteresting to the average person, their role in the global ecosystem is critical – they produce half of the planet’s annual oxygen supply and are a foundational food source in the marine world. Some species also fix nitrogen from an inert gas to deposit it in the soil, thereby providing necessary nutrients to plant life. Despite the integral role that algae play in our environment, they are relatively understudied, particularly the smaller category known as microalgae. “Microalgae produce most of the Earth’s oxygen, sequester carbon dioxide, and even promote raincloud formation, but relatively few microalgal genomes were studied before this project. Although microalgae are fundamental to global ecosystems and have the potential for sustainable biotechnological development, they have received far less research attention than other microbes. For example, more than 30,000 bacteria have been sequenced, while only 62 microalgae had been sequenced before our project,” explained Dr. David Nelson, Senior Research Scientist at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). Dr. Nelson recently collaborated with researchers from NYUAD, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, The University of Texas at Austin, and the National Center for Marine Algae

and Microbiota in Maine to sequence 107 microalgae species representing 11 phyla, which is a zoological category below kingdom and above class. Collaborators from NYUAD included Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kourosh Salehi-Ashtiani, Postdoctoral Associate Dr. Alexandra Mystikou, Research Scientist Dr. Weiqi Fu, Postdoctoral Associate Dr. Sarah Daakour, Researcher Bushra Dohai, and Research Assistant Amnah Alzahmi. Their investigation into the microalgae species’ genomes – which Dr. Nelson referred to as “the core, indivisible coding apparatus for all organisms” – was intended to clarify the expanse of their protein-coding and viral elements. Identifying the protein-coding region of a genome enables comparative analysis of physical characteristics as genes encode proteins, and proteins dictate cell function. Evidence has been mounting that algae genomes have been permanently changed by past viral infections – some estimated to have occurred millions of years ago. “The viral contribution to algal genomes has not been studied on a large scale, but evidence suggests that viruses have contributed to their hosts’ adaptation of different environments. Gene shuffling

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FEATURES

IDENTIFYING THE GENES THAT CONFER HALOTOLERANCE – OR THE ABILITY TO THRIVE IN HIGH-SALT ENVIRONMENTS – MAY HELP SCIENTISTS ENHANCE THE ABILITY OF CROP SPECIES TO GROW IN SALINE ENVIRONMENTS, THEREBY INCREASING AVAILABLE FARMLAND AND CROP YIELDS

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between algae and viruses has led to the emergence of giant viruses that incorporate entire biosynthetic pathways, sourced from their algal hosts, into their enormous genomes. When host specificity expands, viral genes can be transferred to distantly related organisms and confer specific evolutionary adaptations, such as the introduction of new metabolic pathways. These facilitate the assimilation of fresh nutrients or abiotic stressresistance genes that promote survival in niche habitats,” stated the research team in a paper that was recently published in leading journal Cell Host & Microbe. To address the knowledge gap in algal genomics and investigate their heritage, the team set out to sequence a large sample of algae representing diverse phyla, geographies, and climates. It

gathered 107 algae samples from the collections of The University of Texas at Austin, the National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota, and NYUAD. The microalgae samples were cultured and then sequenced before the new sequencing was compared to those available from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) in Maryland and Phytozome (the Plant Comparative Genomics portal of the US Department of Energy). This was done to further investigate the differences between microalgae from saltwater and freshwater habitats and natural groups (called clades). The results of the genetic sequencing and analysis revealed fundamental differences between the genomes of freshwater and saltwater algae and identified genes of


viral heritage. Researchers found that each of the sequenced microalgal phyla had its own unique set of viral-origin sequences, with over 90,000 found in 184 algal genomes. This ubiquity implies that viruses donated functional genes to these algae very early in their evolution, perhaps billions of years ago. Marine species contained significantly more viral-origin genes in their genomes than freshwater algae. In the latter, the viral sequences were likely to have enhanced metal assimilation as well as their ability to metabolize sugars and amino acids. The viral-origin genes from saltwater algae tended to provide photosynthetic machinery and enabled their ability to maintain membrane integrity in a saline environment. “We discovered that all microalgal genomes had a core set of viralorigin genes, but throughout the multibillion-year course of microalgal evolution, various lineages acquired different sets of ‘donations,’ thus defining their potential to operate within a given environmental niche,” Dr. Nelson explained. Among the more notable findings from the study was the identification of the specific genes responsible for maintaining marine algae’s membrane integrity in saline environments. Identifying the genes that confer halotolerance – or the ability to

thrive in high-salt environments – may help scientists enhance the ability of crop species to grow in saline environments, thereby increasing available farmland and crop yields. “Any crop species whose development would benefit from using more saline water, such as in cases where freshwater is limited, could benefit from the insertion of a halotolerance genetic cassette. I would specifically recommend looking at cell membrane reinforcement bioengineering as a way to enhance the turgor response in crop species subjected to hypersaline watering regimes,” Dr. Nelson shared. The results of the project are hosted at several international data repositories, including the NCBI and open-access repository of research data Dryad. Dr. Nelson and his collaborators hope this massive increase in sequenced algae will serve as a resource to the international science community and accelerate efforts to identify and leverage algae strains unique to the UAE.

Title of published paper

Large-scale genome sequencing reveals the driving forces of viruses in microalgal evolution

Published in

“ALTHOUGH MICROALGAE ARE FUNDAMENTAL TO GLOBAL ECOSYSTEMS AND HAVE THE POTENTIAL FOR SUSTAINABLE BIOTECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT, THEY HAVE RECEIVED FAR LESS RESEARCH ATTENTION THAN OTHER MICROBES” Dr. David Nelson Senior Research Scientist New York University Abu Dhabi

Cell Host & Microbe

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 15.923, Q1, H-index: 163, Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR): 7.17

Project funded by

New York University Abu Dhabi Institute Grant (73 71210 CGSB9) and NYUAD Faculty Research Funds (AD060)


FEATURES

ENSURING THE SECURITY OF CLOUD-ASSISTED AND IOT-INTEGRATED SMART CITIES As more cities transform to become smart cities, the challenge of securing cloud integration and IoT components becomes more pressing.

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Merging infrastructure with electronic and digital technologies, smart cities are urban areas that collect data in order to provide improved operations and enhance quality of life. The data is analyzed to produce insights that not only help manage assets and resources, but also provide services efficiently. Two important technology models that are key to smart city development are the Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud computing. The former leverages sensors for real-time monitoring, data gathering, and management of operations and services, while the latter provides the digital infrastructure of smart cities, storing and analyzing any data gathered. As both of these information and computing technologies utilize wireless internet access, ensuring robust security is of paramount importance. The more “connected” a city is, the more at risk it is for security breaches and even malicious hacks. This has already been seen in other parts of the world, like Dallas in 2018, when city residents were sent into a panic when hackers activated the city’s tornado warning system. The UAE has focused on creating and integrating smart city solutions as part of its ongoing development. The Smart Dubai project was launched back in 2013 to make Dubai one of the world’s smartest cities by 2030. Additionally, ‘Smart City Applications and Solutions’ is one of the 24 focus areas of the UAE’s Science, Technology & Innovation Policy. In response to this focus, Abu Dhabi and Dubai currently rank in the world’s top 50 smart cities, ranking at 42 and 43 respectively, according to the IMD Smart City Index 2020. “This world is rapidly changing with advancements in information technology, especially as huge steps are being taken to expand the IoT for the development of smart cities. Integration of cloud computing enhances distributed resources in the smart city, so improper management of a cloud-

assisted IoT system’s security requirements can bring about risks to availability, security, performance, confidentiality, and privacy. In light of these facts, we decided to explore the importance of IoT in developing a smart city for the future,” said Dr. Mohammad Usman Tariq, Associate Professor of Quality Management at the Abu Dhabi School of Management (ADSM). Dr. Tariq has partnered with researchers in Pakistan, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Botswana to address related challenges. The team recently wrote a paper on its solution that was published in Computers, Materials & Continua journal, with its members proposing a system that will ensure the necessary security of cloud-assisted and IoT-enabled smart cities. They suggest that the security requirements are collected during the initial development phase instead of the active phase, as is common. “The most common problems to cloudassisted and IoT-enabled smart city environments are availability, security, performance, data confidentiality, and audit and privacy issues. These risks arise due to the management of requirements related to developing IoT-enabled applications,” Dr. Tariq explained. In response to this problem, the research team proposed a smart city security framework composed of three-layered architecture. The layers include privacypreserved stakeholder analysis, security requirement modeling and validation, and secure cloud assistance – and the goal of each layer is guarding security. “In our work, we studied the security requirements of IoT-enabled systems and devised a framework to collect them,” Dr. Tariq said. In the team’s proposed framework, questions are designed to classify stakeholders, from which their security requirements are analyzed. As a result, stakeholder security requirements are ranked and grouped together – they are


FEATURES

ABU DHABI AND DUBAI CURRENTLY RANK IN THE WORLD’S TOP 50 SMART CITIES, RANKING AT 42 AND 43 RESPECTIVELY, ACCORDING TO THE IMD SMART CITY INDEX 2020

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ranked based on resource availability, importance, and development before being grouped according to similarity. Together, the optimized grouping method and analytical hierarchy process perform prioritization and avoid biased decisions. “The security of the stakeholder is important because if stakeholder information is vulnerable, then it could be compromised and affect the smart city applications. The stakeholder of the smart city application could be a citizen who uses the services of the system, a developer who develops the system, or a tester who tests the system, among others,” Dr. Tariq explained. For the security requirements modeling and validation layer, researchers proposed usage-oriented analysis. Through this analysis, the framework’s users would

organize workshops and trainings with the smart city’s stakeholders in order to document their security requirements, analyze the communication gap between stakeholders, and enable real-world testing of the validation requirements for new domains. This particular layer analyzes the security requirements for cloud-assisted IoT applications, facilitates negotiation of those requirements to eliminate uncertainties, and specifies and documents the security requirements. The final layer – secure cloud assistance – is conducted using a secure cloud assistant with specific structure and functionalities that are defined by the researchers. Dr. Tariq and his collaborators identified the stakeholders using the model’s privacypreserved stakeholder analysis mechanism to collect security requirements. In this


“THE STAKEHOLDER OF THE SMART CITY APPLICATION COULD BE A CITIZEN WHO USES THE SERVICES OF THE SYSTEM, A DEVELOPER WHO DEVELOPS THE SYSTEM, AND A TESTER WHO TESTS THE SYSTEM” Dr. Mohammad Usman Tariq Associate Professor of Quality Management Abu Dhabi School of Management

way, the secure cloud assistance layer provides secure access to cloud-assisted IoT applications and their functionalities. The novel system proposed by the team provides a framework to collect security requirements during the early development of cloud-assisted and IoT-enabled smart city applications. By considering the requirements upfront, the security system can be designed to serve the unique needs of a smart city’s stakeholders and the services they produce. Having developed the framework, Dr. Tariq and his colleagues then tested it in a healthcare case study. In the cloudand IoT-enabled healthcare system, smart devices collect patients’ medical readings, which are then automatically shared with their doctors through the internet. By testing its system using this case study, the research team successfully identified the healthcare system’s required specifications. “The next step for this area of our research is to extend the cloud-assisted model to other domains. We aim to

extend the model to the edge and fog computing paradigm. Edge computing is utilized to provide the computation near the data to improve the processing and storage challenges. The fog, meanwhile, is used to manage the different edges in the system,” Dr. Tariq added.

Title of published paper

Security requirement management for cloud-assisted and internet of things – enabled smart city

Published in

Computers, Materials & Continua

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 4.89, Q1, H-index: 33, Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR): 1.53

Project funded by

Abu Dhabi School of Management


FEATURES

TRACKING THE IMPACT OF WATERPIPE SMOKE ON LUNG CANCER MALIGNANCY As waterpipe smoking gains popularity worldwide, one research project delves into how the seemingly harmless pastime amplifies the danger of lung cancer and demonstrates its effect in live cells.

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THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION REPORTS THAT THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN REGION, IN WHICH THE UAE FALLS, HAS THE HIGHEST PREVALENCE OF WATERPIPE USE IN THE WORLD – PARTICULARLY AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE

Waterpipe smoking, or shisha as it is known in the UAE, is a pastime and social activity that many perceive as harmless. However, evidence is mounting that it can increase one’s risk of cancer by reducing the body’s ability to recognize and kill cancer cells, while enhancing their ability to evade treatment and spread in the body. To that end, a project led by Dr. Rania Faouzi Zaarour, Assistant Professor and Researcher at the Thumbay Research Institute for Precision Medicine (TRIPM) at Gulf Medical University (GMU), has investigated how waterpipe smoke condensate (WPSC) exposure increases the danger posed by cancer on the body by reducing immune response and increasing cancer-cell resilience. “We became interested in waterpipe smoking because of its increasing popularity around the world, particularly among the youth,” she shared. “This is despite the fact that waterpipe smokers are actually exposed to even more toxic molecules than cigarette smokers, as a waterpipe smoking session typically lasts far longer than a cigarette. Given the growing numbers of waterpipe users and the lack of research into the unique effects of WPSC on lung cancer cells, we felt this was an important topic to explore.” The World Health Organization reports that the Eastern Mediterranean Region, in which the UAE falls, has the highest prevalence of waterpipe use in the world – particularly among young people. It lists waterpipe smoke as toxic, with links to both lung and oral cancer alongside other adverse health outcomes. Dr. Zaarour and her collaborators from GMU, American University of Sharjah (AUS), and the Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus in France focused their research on three major cell functions. The first, cell proliferation, refers to the process by which cells grow and divide to produce more cells. Cancer cells tend to proliferate faster than healthy cells, spreading rapidly in the body. The second function, cell plasticity, is the ability of

some cells (like stem cells) to switch from one specific program of gene expression to another in response to specific signals from the environment. Some cancer cells demonstrate stem cell-like plasticity, shifting between different states and evading immunotherapy and the immune system in the process. The third is tumor recognition and removal, a function of natural killer (NK) cells that are part of the immune system. NK cells become activated in the presence of foreign cells like tumors or viruses, which they target for removal by releasing cell-destroying toxins. “NK cell-mediated immune surveillance strengthens host defense against certain microbial agents and cells undergoing malignant transformation,” explained Dr. Zaarour. “To date, no data is available as to the effect of waterpipe smoke on NK cell function, although in mice, waterpipe smoke condensate exposure has been found to suppress immunity, while cigarette smoking has been linked to lower populations and activity of NK cells.” To understand how waterpipe smoking affects lung cells and lung cancer cells, researchers grew different types of cells in the lab, including two lines of cancerous lung cells (H460 and A549) and one line of non-cancerous lung cells

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FEATURES

Left to right: Dr Goutham Hassan Venkatesh, Ms. Ayesha Rifath, Mr. Husam Hussein Nawafleh, Dr. Rania Faouzi Zaarour, Ms. Nagwa Ahmed Zeinelabdin, Dr. Raefa Abou Khouzam

“OUR STUDY SHOWS THAT CONTINUING SMOKING WATERPIPE AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH LUNG CANCER MAY RESULT IN MORE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR BY CANCER CELLS. THIS MEANS THERAPY MODALITIES FOR CANCER PATIENTS WOULD BE MORE EFFECTIVE IF THEY ELIMINATED IT ENTIRELY” Dr. Rania Faouzi Zaarour Assistant Professor and Researcher at the Thumbay Research Institute for Precision Medicine

– all from human samples. The cells were then exposed to WPSC of double appleflavored waterpipe tobacco through a machine that mimics the way humans inhale and puff. The cells were tested in the presence of various concentrations of WPSC condensate (0.5%, 1%, and 2%) for eight consecutive days. NK cells were then added to the three types of lung cells to see how the WPSC exposure impacted their activity. The two cancerous cell line samples were analyzed to see how WPSC impacted altered gene expression related to DNA damage, inflammation, epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT), and stem cell-like qualities

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in the lungs. EMT is a biological process that allows an epithelial cell (the type of cell on the surface of the skin, blood vessels, urinary tracts, or organs that protects it from viruses) to become a type of cell that can travel, invade, and produce other cell matrices. In the context of cancer, EMT enables the cancerous cells to travel and spread throughout the body. The researchers found that exposure to WPSC induced DNA damage, which is a precursor to cancer. WPSC exposure was also found to result in decreased cell proliferation, with cell death at higher concentrations proving a positive correlation. In the lung cancer cell line, WPSC was found to activate the inflammatory response that is believed to contribute towards tumor formation. Expression of EMT and production of cancer stem cells were also found to be increased by WPSC exposure, which in turn can increase the aggressiveness of a tumor. The effect of WPSC exposure on the ability of NK cells to recognize and kill cancer cells was also studied and found to be significantly reduced in one cancer cell line, but not the other.


Explaining the results, Dr. Zaarour said: “We observed that pathways involved in the induction of EMT, a prerequisite for cancer stem cell generation, were turned on. We also observed an increase in DNA damage and inflammation induced by waterpipe smoke exposure. Inflammation plays an important role in the tumorspecific microenvironment, which is thought to facilitate all phases of tumor production, from initiation to spreading to other parts of the body. Lastly, we investigated how these WPSC lung cancer cells’ susceptibility to NK cells was impacted by exposure to WPSC, and found that they became more resistant to killing, although they did not become harder to recognize by the NK cells.” Regarding the different impacts of WPSC on the cancer-killing ability of the two cancer cell lines, she continued: “Under our experimental conditions, WPSC exposure reduced the cell-killing activity of one of the cancer cell lines, A549, but not in the other. However, the capacity of the NK cells to form synapses with the WPSC-treated cancer cells was unaffected in both. This is most likely due to genetic variations in the two cell lines, engaging communication networks that could also include the release of inflammatory mediators signaling to the immune system. The finding raises further questions about different ways that WPSC can impact a cell’s susceptibility to lysis, which is the disintegration of a cell by the rupture of its wall.” The research project also provides concrete evidence of how waterpipe smoking impacts the pathology of lung cancer, according to Dr. Zaarour. “Our study shows that continuing smoking waterpipe after being diagnosed with lung cancer may result in more aggressive behavior by cancer cells. This means therapy modalities for cancer patients would be more effective if they eliminated waterpipe smoking entirely. Additionally, targeting inflammatory mechanisms may help control the emergence of aggressive cancer clones with EMT and stem cell-like features,” she said.

A paper on the collaborative research project was recently published in the reputed Oncology Reports journal. Dr Zaarour’s co-authors from TRIPM at GMU included Dr. Prathibha Prasad, Lecturer and Researcher; Dr. Goutham Hassan Venkatesh, Assistant Professor and Researcher; Dr. Raefa Abou Khouzam, Assistant Professor and Researcher; Dr. Francis Amirtharaj, Assistant Professor and Researcher; Nagwa Zeinelabdin, Research Assistant; Ayesha Rifath, Research Assistant; Husam Nawafleh, Cellular Imaging in Charge; and Dr. Salem Chouaib, Institute Director. Other collaborators included Stéphane Terry, Research Scientist at Gustave Roussy, ParisSud University, Paris-Saclay University, and Dr. Yehya El-Sayed, Professor at AUS. As a next step, Dr. Zaarour and her collaborators will investigate the specific pathways leading to lung cancer’s stem cell generation in response to WPSC exposure, as well as how WPSC-mediated cell mutation prompts specific molecular pathways. “These, in turn, could promote tumor growth by inhibiting immune system recognition and killing, which will help unveil clues to enhance cancer treatment modalities,” she concluded.

Title of published paper

Waterpipe smoke condensate influences epithelial to mesenchymal transition and interferes with the cytotoxic immune response in non-small cell lung cancer cell lines

Published in

Oncology Reports

Journal metrics

Impact Factor: 3.47, Q1, H-index: 91, Scientific Journal Ranking (SJR): 0.968

Project funded by

Al Jalila Foundation and the Thumbay Research Institute for Precision Medicine at Gulf Medical University


FEATURES

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DR. RACHIK SOUALAH

FROM A SMALL ALGERIAN VILLAGE TO THE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER Among the few people r esponsible for putting the UAE on the par ticle physics map, Dr. Rachik Soualah r esearches the unsolved mysteries of our univer se. T he Assistant Professor at the Univer sity of Shar jah explains the v alue this seemingly impenetr able discipline offer s the UAE and the wor ld.

Dr. Rachik Soualah University of Sharjah Scopus H-index: 93 ORCID ID

Clarifying some of the lingering mysteries of our universe is one way to make a subtle but significant impact on the country and the wider world and Dr. Rachik Soualah is doing just that. Not only is he an Assistant Professor at the University of Sharjah (UOS), but he’s also a particle physicist in one of the world’s leading large-scale physics collaborations. Dr. Soualah is the region’s only member of ATLAS, one of the four major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland. The LHC is a 27-kilometer particle accelerator located in a tunnel 100 meters underground at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, more commonly known as CERN. It’s no ordinary accelerator – it’s the largest and most powerful of its kind. It’s a particle collider – a type of particle accelerator that brings two opposing particle beams together – which speeds up beams of elementary particles to nearly the speed of light and smashes them together inside specialized detectors

to recreate the conditions of the early universe. This enables scientists to study how fundamental particles are initially created and describe their interactions, which can provide insights into the fundamental laws of nature and to form visible matter, which represents just 5% of the universe. As a member of ATLAS, Dr. Soualah is one of nearly 3,000 researchers from 183 institutions in 38 countries. He participates in research that uses the LHC to test predictions of the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics, the theory that describes what we know about the tiny subatomic particles known as the fundamental building blocks of the universe. The SM is a successful theory that continues to describe nature by explaining three of the four known fundamental forces in the universe – electromagnetism, strong nuclear force, and weak nuclear force – and classifies all known elementary particles. The model illustrates how particles called quarks and leptons make up all known matter, and how force-carrying particles called bosons influence said quarks and leptons. However, despite the SM’s ability to describe so much of the universe, several phenomena remain unclear. For instance, the SM does not account for the material known as dark matter, which is estimated to make up roughly 25% of matter in the universe, but does not interact with the

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PROFILES

Among the hundreds of highly cited publications that Dr. Soualah has contributed to as a member of ATLAS, he is particularly proud of a paper published in the Physical Review D journal in 2018, which provided the first evidence of a signal for the production of Higgs boson with the top quark pair.

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ordinary matter nor reflect or emit light. Additionally, the SM framework does not explain the existence of massive neutrinos, their mixing, and why there is an imbalance in the universe between observable everyday matter known as baryonic and antibaryonic matter. In order to explain how particles acquire mass, particle physicist Peter Higgs and others proposed a new mechanism in which there must be a field – the Higgs field – whereby fundamental particles gain mass and form atoms and molecules when they interact with it. The Higgs boson is effectively a snapshot of the Higgs field at the moment when particles travel through it and acquire mass. But proof of the Higgs field’s existence in the form of the Higgs boson eluded scientists for decades until 2012, when the particle was finally observed

by ATLAS and the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) collaborations at CERN. Since then, the Higgs boson has become a core focus for exploration of physics “beyond the standard model,” or BSM, which refers to the theoretical developments needed to define the limitations of the SM. “There are still so many open questions about our universe. What is the origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe? What is the origin of dark matter? What is the origin of the mass hierarchy between particles? Why is gravity weak? Is it possible to unify all forces? All of these questions have shaped the work we do in particle physics,” said Dr. Soualah. In a quest for answers, he works on characterizing the BSM-related issues, like the search for dark matter at colliders and the interplay between the Higgs and dark/hidden sector,


which refers to the category of matter that is invisible or undetectable. Among the hundreds of highly cited publications that Dr. Soualah has contributed to as a member of ATLAS, he is particularly proud of a paper published in the Physical Review D journal in 2018, which provided the first evidence of a signal for the production of Higgs boson with the top quark pair. As mentioned earlier, the Higgs field is theorized to give elementary particles their mass, so an obvious experiment for this mechanism was to study how a pair of the most massive particle – the top quark – interacted with the Higgs boson. “It is known that the Higgs boson cannot decay directly into top quarks due to their high mass. We measured the coupling of the associated production of a Higgs boson with a pair of top quarks, which could either confirm the SM or possibly reveal new physics,” he revealed. “A dedicated analysis

was performed with the LHC data to better understand how the Higgs boson interacts with heavy particles, like the top quark.” This initial research has led to insights about the recent breakthrough of the Higgs boson, including the first observation of the Higgs boson produced simultaneously with a top quark pair – known as the ttH production. The resulting projects have further helped prove the SM’s explanation of the link between the Higgs boson and elementary particles and provide a new direction with new hypotheses for physics BSM through new exclusion limit regions. When asked what inspires him to tackle so many weighty scientific mysteries, Dr. Soualah paraphrased noted physicist Richard Feynman, saying, “It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.” It was that determination to understand


PROFILES

and explain the unknown that led Dr. Soualah through his advanced education and professional development, taking him from a small village in Algeria to the world’s biggest physics center in Switzerland. He studied at the Paris-based Pierre and Marie Curie University in 2003 before being selected for the High Energy Physics program at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy, where he received a diploma in 2005. Dr. Soualah followed up this achievement with a PhD in Physics from Heidelberg University in Germany as a fellow of Development and Application of Intelligent Detectors, a joint research group between Germany and Norway. It was there that Dr. Soualah realized that in order to achieve the level

Photo: CERN

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of research he desired, he should tackle more deep physics problems with advanced technologies at the particle detectors. “I learned a lot about the SM and its beauty during my diploma – more importantly on what not to do to reach a solid understanding. In my PhD program, I was involved in the search for the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP) state that occurred right after the Big Bang. This accumulated expertise pushed me to study fundamental questions, like the top quark physics with more precision measurements, which led me to eventually join ATLAS,” he recalled. After working as a post-doctorate researcher at ICTP for about five years, Dr. Soualah was awarded an international fellowship


“THERE ARE STILL SO MANY OPEN QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR UNIVERSE. WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE MATTER-ANTIMATTER ASYMMETRY IN THE UNIVERSE? WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF DARK MATTER? WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THE MASS HIERARCHY BETWEEN PARTICLES? WHY IS GRAVITY WEAK? IS IT POSSIBLE TO UNIFY ALL FORCES? ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS HAVE SHAPED THE WORK WE DO IN PARTICLE PHYSICS” Dr. Rachik Soualah Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Physics and Astronomy University of Sharjah

at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and CERN. He worked there for several years before moving to the UAE to join UOS in 2016. Since joining UOS, Dr. Soualah has had a tremendous impact on formalizing and deepening the UAE’s participation in the international high energy physics community, particularly through CERN and the ICTP. He has also helped developed the UAE’s CERN Summer Student Program through which selected students spend eight to 13 weeks at the organization. Once there, they work with some of the world’s top particle physicists to deepen their understanding and develop their technical skills while contributing to important research. A total of 11 students from the UAE have benefitted from the program during the past five years. “I’ve been working to promote particle physics as a cutting-edge research direction at the University of Sharjah and the UAE in general. That is why I involve university students in research from an early stage, as I believe it helps raise awareness on the value of particle physics in the education sector,” explained Dr. Soualah. He says that while it can sometimes be hard to communicate

particle physics’ value to young students – particularly where applied science is more highly regarded for its tangible outcomes – the field’s impact is undeniable. “Research in particle physics does not produce fruit as quickly as applied sciences. It is a long-term investment, but it can produce major innovations and spillover technologies. We at CERN don’t just study phenomena – we often end up developing entirely new technologies to observe, analyze, and perform measurements. For example, the World Wide Web was invented by Sir Timothy Berners-Lee at CERN. Fundamental physics research has a huge impact on technologies that serve us in our daily lives. Without it, we would miss out on so many innovations,” he added. Going forward, Dr. Soualah hopes to continue to guide and inspire young people into particle physics while focusing his research more on new physics in order to clarify the neutrino and DM interplay. “By working in this field, we hope to contribute to increasing our understanding of the universe. Along the way, I hope our research can help in explaining or answering any of the lingering mysteries, like Higgs and dark matter physics,” he concluded.


PROFILES

DR. SHAHEENAH DAWOOD

HAPPINESS THROUGH ONCOLOGY EXCELLENCE Wi t h b i g a m b i t i o n s f o r a d v a n c i n g t h e U A E ’ s f i e l d o f o n c o l o g y, D r. S h a h e e n a h D a w o o d b a l a n c e s multiple projects, roles, and research initiatives across the UAE and beyond. Her e, the Emirati oncologist reveals more a b o u t h e r j o u r n e y.

Dr. Shaheenah Dawood Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences Scopus H-index: 34 ORCID ID

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As an oncologist juggling many scientific and leadership roles, Dr. Shaheenah Dawood is guided by a relatively simple philosophy – do what makes you happy and put your all into achieving it. “My parents taught me that if your work doesn’t make you happy, then don’t do it. I believe you should find out what makes you happy and do your best to achieve it. I am very lucky in that I found the field I love and do what makes me happy,” shared the Emirati oncologist. Dr. Dawood has been pursuing her happiness in the form of excellence in oncology care, research, program development, and conference management for the past two decades. She even founded an international medical conference – the Excellence in Oncology Care (EIOC) summit – with that focus in its name, in support of her goal of advancing oncology in her home country of the UAE. Besides being the founder and president of the EIOC, Dr. Dawood is also a Consultant Medical Oncologist at Mediclinic Middle East (MCME) and Associate Professor of Clinical Oncology

at Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU). Surprisingly, oncology wasn’t on Dr. Dawood’s radar when she completed her first medical degree – an MBBCh in Medicine from Dubai Medical College – in 1998. She was leaning towards specializing in neurology at the time and considering accepting a training program in the US. However, a chance meeting with Emirati oncologist Dr. Zulfaqqar Ali Jaffar, who would become her first mentor, steered her in an entirely new direction. “Dr. Zulfaqqar helped me realize that oncology was the right field for me – that not only was it interesting, but also fulfilling. And it is,” she asserted. “The satisfaction you get from seeing someone being cured of cancer is unimaginable. I always say that you can’t cure hypertension and diabetes, but to cure that one patient with cancer? It is the most tremendous feeling that I’ve ever experienced.” Having decided on her new specialization, Dr. Dawood applied for a medical oncology residency program at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. At McGill, she discovered she did not just want to treat cancer – she wanted to research it, too. “I’ve always had an inquisitive mind. I’d always ask questions beyond the scope of the training I was receiving.” In fact, she recalled her mentor at McGill once asking, “Why don’t you get into the research aspect as well? You can ask those clinical questions.”


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PROFILES

With that new goal in mind, Dr. Dawood chose to follow up her oncology residency with a sub-specialization in breast cancer at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she was a Susan G. Komen fellow. This experience not only enabled her to publish with leading researchers, but also helped her identify the additional skills she should acquire to achieve her broader goals. When Dr. Dawood embarked upon her studies abroad, she had an objective of bringing her expertise back home to the UAE. She wanted to improve patient care, advance cancer research and research infrastructure, and facilitate international collaborations to achieve both. To improve her ability to pursue independent research, she took on an editorial

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fellowship at the New England Journal of Medicine. With a focus on clinical effectiveness and decision analysis, Dr. Dawood simultaneously pursued a Master of Public Health at Harvard School of Public Health to enhance her ability to analyze health registries and databases for larger epidemiological trends. “Those two final programs gave me the tools to be able to pursue my research independently, which ultimately was my goal because I’d always intended to return to the UAE. The country’s infrastructure for research was not as developed at the time, and I knew that, at home, I would be working on projects very different from those in Europe or America. I wanted to ensure I had gathered all the necessary skills to be


able to contribute to oncology care and research in the UAE,” she explained. Since returning to the UAE in 2008, Dr. Dawood has been making good on those goals. She served as both Head of the Breast Cancer Program and Head of Medical Oncology at Dubai Hospital in addition to working as a Consultant Medical Oncologist for Dubai Health Authority. In 2009, she launched the annual EIOC, of which she is still president. The event provides a platform for global and regional oncology experts to meet and share their knowledge. From there, Dr. Dawood has also expanded her role in leading international medical summits. She leads both the Asia Pacific Breast Cancer and Asia Pacific Gastroenterology Cancer summits, as well as the International BRCA Forum, a leading forum on hereditary cancer. The recently launched APMEA Molecular Tumor Board is also her brainchild. Just one year after launching the EIOC, Dr. Dawood published what she considers to be her most impactful research paper to date: “Prognosis of Women with Metastatic Breast Cancer by HER2 Status and Trastuzumab Treatment: An InstitutionalBased Review.” It was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and has over 520 citations on Scopus. The paper dealt with her collaborative research into the treatment of breast cancer patients with human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) positive cancer and the use of an anti-HER2 antibody. The presence of HER2 enables the faster, more aggressive growth of cancer cells, which has made HER2positive breast cancer more deadly than other breast cancer types. In 1998, metastatic HER2-positive cancer was being treated with trastuzumab, a targeted cancer drug. In 2004,

trastuzumab treatment was expanded to early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer patients, where it was also found to reduce the risk of recurrence and death by 50%. Dr. Dawood wanted to understand if the use of trastuzumab had equalized the prognosis of HER2-positive breast cancer patients and HER2-negative breast cancer patients, as the former typically had far worse prognoses. To measure and analyze the impact of trastuzumab on HER2positive breast cancer, data from three patient cohorts was examined: HER2positive patients treated with trastuzumab, HER2-positive patients who never received trastuzumab, and HER2-negative patients. Analysis found that treatment with trastuzumab improved the health outcomes of patients with HER2-positive breast cancer – even beyond HER2negative breast cancer patients – proving its impact. “This research got me my first merit award and oral presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and it was a defining moment in my career,” revealed Dr. Dawood. Soon after, Dr. Dawood joined Dubai Hospital, where she added the development of cancer registries for the UAE to her work. Cancer registries are important tools in public health management as they store data that can be used to examine cancer trends in a population. This, in turn, can be used to plan health programs, improve patient care, and better control cancer. “There’s nothing like prospectively collecting data and being able to ask important questions that can help change the clinical care of your patients,” she said. A few years later, Dr. Dawood joined MCME to work as a Consultant Medical Oncologist and develop its cancer research program, where she has since remained. In 2017, she received a research grant


PROFILES

“I BELIEVE YOU SHOULD FIND OUT WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY AND DO YOUR BEST TO ACHIEVE IT. I AM VERY LUCKY IN THAT I FOUND THE FIELD I LOVE AND DO WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY” Dr. Shaheenah Dawood Associate Professor of Clinical Oncology Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences

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from Al Jalila Foundation – another career highlight according to the oncologist. She led the project team’s investigation into the genomic-level differences among the UAE’s early-stage breast cancer patients. She presented the research findings at the 2020 MCME Research Conference, for which she won the award for best oral abstract presentation. Explaining how the country’s demographics contributed to the significance of her research, the doctor said, “What makes our cohort of patients so interesting is that we’re such a multiethnic society in the UAE. We have nationalities from all over, which affords us the opportunity to study the differences in genomics between groups, comparing and contrasting that to what is being seen in Europe and the US. I am


When asked what motivated her to take on such challenging roles and projects, Dr. Dawood credited the guidance of her many mentors, the loving support of her parents, her patients, and the UAE’s rulers.

very proud of this research, which we are currently working to publish.” The year 2017 also marked Dr. Dawood’s first foray into teaching. She joined MBRU as an associate professor to formally transfer her knowledge and skills to future doctors and answer more challenging research questions. “Research without teaching is meaningless,” she said. “If you’re researching but not teaching the next generation of medical students and researchers how to take it forward, it means nothing.” When asked what motivated her to take on such challenging roles and projects, Dr. Dawood credited the guidance of her many mentors, the loving support of her parents, her patients, and the UAE’s rulers. “I wouldn’t be able to go to work every day with a smile on my face or keep thinking up new clinical questions without my patients. They inspire me every single

moment. And I thank them for continually driving me. I also believe the UAE is one of the world’s most amazing countries – we have everything here – and this is due in large part to our rulers. They are our mentors, who have provided us with all of the resources we need to do something great for the country. They inspire us to go above and beyond.” For Dr. Dawood, above and beyond translates to working tirelessly to improve the lives of her patients, building more cancer programs, facilitating more international collaboration and, along the way, possibly helping to cure cancer. “I hope that by continuing to work in this field of precision medicine, we are going to find that genomic signature, that biomarker, or that individual treatment strategy to essentially cure cancer,” she shared. “I know it’s a very ambitious statement to make, but I believe you should be ambitious.”


SCIENCE FOR KIDS

HOW DO PLANTS KEEP IN TOUCH? Researchers Dimitrije Markovic, Neda Nikolic, Robert Glinwood, Gulaim Seisenbaeva, and Velemir Ninkovic investigated how potato plants respond to touch and what those responses can mean. Seda Dawson helped adapt a paper on their research, which was published in PLOS ONE.

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Just like humans, plants sometimes find it hard to live with others. Unlike humans though, plants cannot pack up and move to another place. To survive, they sense and respond to the cues from their neighbors by sensing things such as changes in the amount of sunlight or the chemicals in the soil. Plant leaf tips may also touch neighboring plants due to wind or lack of space. This mechanical stimulus may be another way plants gain information about their neighbors. Plants are the basis of all food webs, so a change in plants can impact their interaction with other organisms. In this study, we used potatoes to investigate the effects that touching neighboring plants can have on a plant. We studied the following changes in touched vs. untouched (control) plants: 1. Biomass distribution 2. Amount of trichome (plant’s hair) 3. Released volatile chemical compounds 4. Effect on odor preference of herbivorous insects (see Figure 1)

FIGURE 1 A WINGED PEACH-POTATO APHID (MYZUS PERSICAE) These insects are hazardous for plants because they act as vectors for the transport of plant viruses, such as potato virus Y and potato leafroll virus to members of the nightshade/ potato family solanaceae.

(source: Wikipedia)

FIGURE 2 A POTATO PLANT

Flower

Fruit

Inflorescen Leaflets

METHOD

We used an important vegetable crop for human nutrition – the potato – as our model plant (see Figure 2). The two most harmful pests to the potato are potato aphids and green peach aphids, so we used those as the herbivorous insects of our study. To simulate contact with a neighboring plant, we used a soft brush to touch the ends of the leaves of each potato branch for one minute per day (we call these the “treated” plants – see Figure 3). After the eighth day, we collected air samples with the volatile compounds released by the plants and identified the gases.

Compound leaf

Main stems

Lateral stem

Stolons Mother tuber Tuber Roots

(Source: International Potato Center)


SCIENCE FOR KIDS

We used another group of plants to study plant-aphid interaction. We placed the aphids in a special chamber where they could smell the touched and untouched plants. To determine aphids’ smell preferences, we counted the number of visits by each aphid to the treated and untreated plants. To measure how touch impacted plant growth, we measured the stem, branch, and leaf mass of each of plant. We calculated the mass ratio of each part (e.g. what fraction of the total plant mass does the stem make up?). We collected the touched terminal leaves and primary leaves of the same branch. We analyzed the changes on the leaves surfaces by determining the amount of trichome on each one.

FIGURE 3 A RESEARCHER IS TOUCHING THE TREATMENT GROUP OF PLANTS WITH A FINE BRUSH.

RESULTS

FIGURE 4 THE EFFECTS OF TOUCHING ON APHID’S BEHAVIOR. THE DIFFERENCE WE OBSERVED WAS STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT. 5 4 Mean number of visits

Our data showed that touched plants did not grow as tall. They also had a decreased stem mass ratio, but an increased branch and leaf mass ratio. Due to these changes, touched plants were smaller with a more compact appearance compared to the untouched plants. We also found that touched terminal leaves did not show a significant change in their amount of trichome, but the primary leaves on the same branches had much more trichome. We detected 16 different volatile compounds released by potato plants. The total number of compounds released by treated and control plants was the same, but the exact amount of each of the compounds was different. Both aphid species appeared to like the smell of the untouched plants much better than that of the touched plants (see Figure 4).

3 2 1 Treatment

0

Source: Markovic, D., et al (2017) How Do Plants Keep In Touch? Science Journal for Kids. https://sciencejournalforkids.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/plant_touch_article.pdf

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Control

Touched potato

Untouched potato


TERMS TO KNOW CONTROL GROUP

STIMULUS (PLURAL STIMULI)

In a scientific experiment, a group separated from the rest of the experiment where the independent variable being tested (in this case, being touched) cannot influence the results

Something that causes a change or a reaction. Mechanical stimulus is a stimulus that is produced by a physical change, such as being touched

BIOMASS

TERMINAL LEAF

The mass amount of living matter

Leaf at the top/end of a stem or branch

HERBIVOROUS

TRICHOME

Eats plants

A hair-like structure on a plant

PRIMARY LEAF

VOLATILE COMPOUNDS

The first pair of leaves that emerge from a seed

Organic compounds that easily become vapors or gases


SCIENCE FOR KIDS

Q&A WITH EMIRATES YOUNG SCIENTIST MEERA JASIM The high school senior shares her experiences from the Emirates Young Scientist Competition 2020, organized by the Ministry of Education, and the role she hopes science will enable her to play in the UAE.

NAME MEERA JASIM

AGE 17

SCHOOL SENIOR AT THE INSTITUTE OF APPLIED TECHNOLOGY HIGH SCHOOL

CATEGORY SENIOR CATEGORY, GRADES 9-12

PRIZE AED 10,000

PROJECT TITLE COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF EDUCATIONAL INDUCED STRESS ON TEEN SUICIDE RATES

PROJECT BRIEF THE OBJECTIVE OF THE PROJECT WAS TO RAISE AWARENESS OF THE PRESSURES PLACED ON STUDENTS FROM EDUCATIONAL EXPECTATIONS, AND HOW THEY CAN LEAD TO SUICIDE ATTEMPTS. THE PROJECT FEATURED DATA ON SUICIDE ATTEMPTS BY YOUTH IN THE COUNTRY AND AN ACCOUNT FROM A LOCAL POLICE OFFICIAL ON THE ISSUE.

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Last year, nearly 2,500 student science projects from 427 UAE public and private schools competed to receive one of 27 prizes honoring scientific merit. Ahead of the next Emirates Young Scientist Competition, likely to take place this fall, we spoke with senior category winner Meera Jasim to shed some light on the hopes and ambitions of the UAE’s future scientists and innovators.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN THE EMIRATES YOUNG SCIENTIST COMPETITION IN 2020?

And I never thought I’d be able to achieve what I did.

and hopefully work towards improving the citizens’ morals and wellbeing.

My biology teacher inspired me. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have participated. I was also inspired by my love of spreading awareness in the UAE about mental illness and disorders.

WHAT EXCITES OR INTERESTS YOU ABOUT SCIENCE?

IF YOU WERE A SCIENTIST, WHAT RESEARCH QUESTION WOULD YOU WORK TO ANSWER?

HOW DID YOU SELECT YOUR EMIRATES YOUNG SCIENTIST PROJECT, AND WHAT WAS YOUR PROJECT ABOUT?

My project was centered on how school stress has led many people to take their lives. I wanted to bring light to this issue and how it shouldn’t be a taboo discussion, but something we should actively talk about and try to prevent.

Honestly, I just want to know how things work, how life works, how the mind works, how our body works. It’s very interesting to me that there is an explanation for almost everything. WHAT ROLE DO YOU HOPE SCIENCE/ RESEARCH WILL PLAY IN YOUR FUTURE LIFE?

I’m planning to be a psychologist, so hopefully science will play a big part in my future life. I love science and want it to be a big part of my life as I achieve my goal to raise awareness.

WHAT DID YOU GAIN OR LEARN FROM YOUR EMIRATES YOUNG SCIENTIST COMPETITION EXPERIENCE?

HOW DO YOU HOPE SCIENCE/ RESEARCH WILL CONTRIBUTE TO THE UAE?

Through the Emirates Young Scientist Competition, I met so many amazing people and received many great opportunities.

I hope science and research will shed light on issues that we don’t normally explore, such as the field of psychology

The question I would work to answer is: How do we break the taboo around mental illness in the Middle East? HOW DID YOUR EMIRATES YOUNG SCIENTIST EXPERIENCE IMPACT OR INFLUENCE YOUR DECISION ABOUT WHAT TO STUDY IN COLLEGE/ UNIVERSITY?

It made me want to advocate for mental health more and help people around the world. And it led to me wanting to be a developmental psychologist that travels the world.


EVENTS CALENDAR

EVENTS CALENDAR

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FUTURE OF LEARNING AND SKILLS – DUBAI 10X WHEN 29-31 May 2021, 10am-5pm WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER University of Dubai The first International Conference on Future of Learning and Skills – Dubai 10X aims to bring together individuals and organizations from academia, government, and corporations to explore the possibilities of combining emerging technologies with 10X thinking and agility in the area of learning and knowledge management.

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NAJAH VIRTUAL CONNECT EXHIBITION WHEN 1-3 June 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER Ministry of Education The Ministry of Education will be conducting virtual tours for students through Najah Virtual Connect, which will focus on scholarships and virtual school trips. This event is part of Najah, the UAE’s leading higher education fair.


DR. SHARMARKE MOHAMED FOR THE SCIENCE DIVISION SEMINAR SERIES 2021 WHEN 1 June 2021, 3pm WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER New York University Abu Dhabi In this installment of The Science Division Seminar Series, Dr. Sharmarke Mohamed, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Khalifa University, will deliver a talk on materials chemistry. The seminar series aims to facilitate connections and fruitful research collaborations between the NYUAD community and scholars from all over the world.

GENERAL DENTAL PRACTITIONERS SERIES: DIAGNOSTIC PROTOCOLS IN AESTHETIC DENTISTRY WHEN 7 June 2021, 8:30pm-10pm WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER Hamdan Bin Mohammed College of Dental Medicine, Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences The lecture series features a monthly guest lecture presented by MBRU faculty members. The lectures are accredited by Dubai Healthcare City Authority, with participants receiving certificates of attendance with CPD points.


EVENTS CALENDAR

QUWA: EMPOWERING WOMEN IN RESEARCH AND INNOVATION WHEN 16 August 2021, 10am-4pm ORGANIZER University of Sharjah Abstract submission is open until 15 July to be considered for one of the 15 research prizes to be awarded to UAE-based female students, researchers, and faculty through the Quwa: Empowering Women in Research and Innovation forum. Five prizes will be

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awarded to the field of medicine, while 10 prizes will be awarded to engineering, computing, and sciences. Each winner in both categories will receive a prize award of AED 10,000. The prize categories include Dentistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, Health Sciences, Engineering, Sciences, Computing and Informatics, Other Discipline Contributing to Science and Technology, and Best Paper Award at the Arab Women in Computing (ArabWIC 2021) conference.


DR. FLORIAN BEUERLE FOR THE SCIENCE DIVISION SEMINAR SERIES 2021 WHEN 15 June 2021, 3pm WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER New York University Abu Dhabi In this installment of The Science Division Seminar Series, Dr. Florian Beuerle from the University of Würzburg in Germany will deliver a talk on porous functional materials. The seminar series aims to facilitate connections and fruitful research collaborations between the NYUAD community and scholars from all over the world.

SIX DEGREES WHEN 17 June 2021, 7pm WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER College of Architecture, Art and Design, American University of Sharjah Graduating students from the College of Architecture, Art and Design will showcase their work in the institute’s annual graduate show and industry night, Six Degrees. Awards will be presented to students and faculty who were recognized for their outstanding achievement and contribution at the college. To attend or find out more, e-mail screado@aus.edu.

7TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ARAB WOMEN IN COMPUTING (ARABWIC 2021) WHEN 25 August 2021 WHERE Virtual ORGANIZER ArabWIC in collaboration with University of Sharjah In conjunction with Second Forum for Women in Research, ArabWIC seeks to support, inspire, retain, encourage collaboration, and increase the visibility and status of women in computing, enabling them to achieve their career aspirations. Anyone with an interest in the Arab region – including the MENA region and beyond – is welcome.


May 2021 Published on behalf of the UAE Ministry of Education by the Department of Science, Technology, and Research. Editorial Director: Zarina Khan Translation Review: Maleka Awadh The Innovation@UAE Magazine is free of charge. Disclaimer: Online project information and links published in the current issue of the Innovation@UAE Magazine are correct when the publication goes to press. The UAE Ministry of Education cannot be held responsible for information which is out of date or websites that are no longer live. Neither the UAE Ministry of Education nor any person acting on its behalf is responsible for the use that may be made of the information contained in this publication, or for any errors that may remain in the texts, despite the care taken in preparing them. The technologies presented in this magazine may be covered by intellectual property rights. The content contained within Innovation@UAE Magazine is by no means an exhaustive listing of all research taking place in the UAE’s accredited higher education institutes. Each issue of the magazine merely seeks to present some selected news and features relating to research and researchers based on proposals from their host institutes. The editorial team responsible for Innovation@UAE Magazine reserves the right to select ideas for news, features, profiles, and calendar items according to the topic timeliness, the availability of information, the cooperativeness of the involved researchers, and the available time and resources. If you would like to suggest a news story, research feature, researcher profile, or calendar item for the next issue, please contact InnovUAEmagazine@moe.gov.ae, and include in the email subject headline “Innovation@UAE Magazine suggestion.”


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