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The Annual Research Forum, which is organised by Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, and is heading towards its fourth year, aims to inspire the young generation to engage in research that not only adds to the country’s knowledge base but also produces life-changing discoveries that extend beyond its borders.
These student-led studies may be in vastly different disciplines, but they are united by their concern for issues critical to the development of Qatar.
As a teenager curious about the source of human diversity, aspiring cardiologist Maen D Abou Ziki wanted to explore the secrets hidden within the most basic form of our existence: genes.
And now, having been awarded the prize for the Best Student Health and Biomedical Research of the Year at the 2012 Annual Research Forum (ARF), Abou Ziki is proving the transformative power of genetics in the medical field through his research in Qatar.
“The Arab populations in general, and the Qatari population in specific, are under-represented in international studies on genetic markers of disease. Hence, what is discovered in European populations on the genetic risk factors for diabetes, for instance, might not be applicable to our patient population in Qatar,” said Abou Ziki, now in his third year at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WCMC-Q).
“We set out to discover the genetic variations that increase the risk for diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease in the Qatari population,” he added.
His research uncovered a genetic mutation prevalent among Qatari and African-derived populations that is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
The success of this award-winning study, ‘High prevalence of the ApoE Arg145Cys dyslipidemia at-risk polymorphism in African-derived populations’, a collaboration with his mentor at WCMC-Q, has inspired AbouZiki to continue his research into new frontiers of genetic diagnosis.
This young scientist’s discoveries in biomedicine are paralleled by critical studies in the field of environmental science, also awarded at the Annual Research Forum. Qatar University’s Momina Adel Zakzok and Shamsa Abdullah Al Khanjari examined the contamination of one of Qatar’s lesser-known natural treasures: the coastal mangroves of the northeast.
Al Khanjari’s study, titled ‘Concentrations and bioaccumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the soft sediments of mangrove, east coast of Qatar’, won her the Best Student Poster of the Year in Energy and Environment Research.
“Oil industry and transportation can impose a potential environmental impact on this unique ecosystem, so I was interested in investigating the concentrations of different PAHs in the sediments and bivalve tissues within the mangrove ecosystem,” said Al Khanjari.
Another study by her colleague Adel Zakzok uncovered alarming arsenic contamination in the mangroves. Zakzok hopes her ARF award for Best Student Energy and Environment Research of the Year will help when applying for a place for a master’s programme, where she would like to continue her research on environmental contamination in Qatar, the country of her birth.
The forum helps incentivise research and facilitate collaboration in the fields of health and biomedicine, energy and environment, computing and technology, and arts, behavioural and social sciences, humanities and Islamic studies.
In previous years, researchers who received awards in each of these fields have gone on to publish or present their findings to international audiences.
PhD candidate Asma Essa Alfadala at the University of Cambridge, for example, will be using her ARF award to present her research on the implementation of Qatar’s education reform, titled ‘Education for a new era’, at two major conferences in the United States.
Next month’s 57th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society, and the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, to be held in San Francisco in April, have each selected her research through a competitive blind review process.
Asma believes that through these conferences, her case studies on school leaders in Qatar will offer insights to a wider group of researchers analysing the success of ambitious educational reform in public school systems.