REMARKABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS BY AMBASSADOR TO THE SEHAM FOUNDATION! – Meet Prof Dana Alsulaiman
Tackling Cancer One Platform At A Time.
It’s difficult enough being in your 20s, but being an Arab female engineer trying to improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients is an almost inconceivable feat. Until you meet Prof. Dana Alsulaiman.
The young Saudi engineer works as an Assistant Professor at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and has received the ‘Innovators under 35’ award for developing a microneedle platform that can detect several types of cancer within the human body by sampling the skin. The traditional, invasive and painful methods for detecting cancer have inspired Prof. Alsulaiman to think outside the box and dedicate her research to the field of non-invasive ‘liquid biopsy’ for cancer detection. She developed many biomedical platforms throughout her PhD and postdoctoral research including a microneedle platform covered in a biosensing substance that, when placed on the skin, can detect cancer biomarkers in an easy and an efficient manner.
We sat down with Prof. Alsulaiman and delved deep into the intricate relationships between science, womanhood, cancer and the importance of highlighting the achievements of Arab women in the STEM field on a global scale.
“We can share their stories and celebrate their achievements within our networks and especially with the younger generation of Arabs.”
How did the Seham foundation come to fruition and what are your long-term goals?
This foundation echoes the collaborative effort and universal plea to improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients in our community and worldwide. The foundation is a response to the calls for action from families, friends, and loved ones who have witnessed and experienced devastating and, in many cases, discouraging situations. The goal of the foundation is to address this call collaboratively, by raising awareness, encouraging a sense of community, and communicating advancements in cancer research to inspire hope and optimism for the future.
You’re only in your 20s, yet you have conceptualized many technologies that can detect cancer in a simple way. What led you to focus your research on cancer as opposed to other diseases?
Cancer is the number one cause of death worldwide, and like many other families, it has also affected mine. The main reason why I decided to dedicate my research to this field is that there is still so much potential and space to significantly improve cancer care today – whether through earlier detection or more personalized and effective therapies. Advancements in cancer research require a global effort and interdisciplinary collaboration among many people, including clinicians, researchers, policy-makers, as well as patients and their families. I hope to play a meaningful part in this effort.
“Advancements in cancer research require a global effort and interdisciplinary collaboration among many people, including clinicians, researchers, policy-makers, as well as patients and their families. I hope to play a meaningful part in this effort.“
MIT News published an article about your barcode-inspired diagnostic test. Can you give us a brief insight into how it functions?
The platform functions like a dipstick assay, where you place the test into a ‘liquid biopsy’ or biofluid sample from a patient and biosensors on the test are able to detect the presence of cancer biomarkers in a highly sensitive and specific way. The platform’s design is inspired by the simplicity of a barcode. Like how each line in a barcode provides information about a product, lines in this test provide information about different cancer biomarkers. Together or in a ‘multiplexed’ fashion, this information provides highly accurate diagnostic information about any cancer type.
What are you researching next?
Firstly, I am continuing to develop even more sensitive and accurate diagnostic devices for cancer to enable earlier non-invasive detection in a quicker and low-cost manner. Secondly, I am focusing my research on developing novel therapeutic strategies for cancer based on designing and synthesizing materials for personalized and more effective treatment of disease.
What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of being a female engineer and how can we break the stigma?
The main challenge is that women remain a minority in the engineering profession which means it is less likely to find women in leadership positions or highlighted in the public eye. Personally, this statistic encourages me to excel in my profession to demonstrate the possibilities and opportunities available to young women. Through outreach events, campaigns, seminars and public appearances, we need to highlight female engineers and scientists and make girls and young women feel like they also belong in this field.
How can we as a society highlight more the fact that Arab women are now taking the lead in medicine?
We can share their stories and celebrate their achievements within our networks and especially with the younger generation of Arabs. A touching story, a common vision or a shared interest could inspire the younger generation to also pursue a career in the STEM or medical fields. To me, this would be the ultimate goal.
What is style to you?
Style is a wonderful and versatile tool that allows me to express myself in different settings and different aspects of my life. Through style, I can express a more professional and elegant look at work while sporting a more creative and relaxed style with family and friends.
Less is more or more is more?
It really depends – in general, less is more except when I want to accessorize!
What is authenticity to you?
Authenticity is about staying true to your values and morals regardless of external
circumstances or pressures. It can be challenging to achieve your most authentic self and
discover your motivations or passions in life, but I truly believe the journey can be remarkably empowering and rewarding.