x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Five UAE women who hope to make a difference

Five students, two of them Emirati, will participate in the Student Innovators Programme in Washington DC.Their goal is to make a difference in the field of paediatric surgery.

From left, Shatha Al Wahhabi, Noaf Salah, Enas Azhari and Zainab Moazzam, students from Khalifa University, were selected to take part in a summer paediatric research programme in Washington DC. Lee Hoagland / The National
From left, Shatha Al Wahhabi, Noaf Salah, Enas Azhari and Zainab Moazzam, students from Khalifa University, were selected to take part in a summer paediatric research programme in Washington DC. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // Shatha Al Wahhabi has a passion for working with children, especially if it means potentially saving their lives.

So when she was among 28 students selected worldwide to participate in the Student Innovators Programme at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Paediatric Surgical Innovation in Washington, DC, she was delighted.

“By treating these children you can change their lives and if we can make this experience less painful for them, then that is truly amazing,” the 19-year-old Emirati said.

She is excited yet anxious about her first trip abroad.

“My parents have been extremely supportive throughout the entire process,” she said. “But I’m a little nervous because this is my first time … for everything.”

Ms Al Wahhabi and four other biomedical engineering students from the UAE were selected to participate in the two-month summer programme.

Selection was based on a reviewed application, which included a resume, professional references, a personal statement, a short essay and an interview. This year there were 19 applicants from the UAE, all from Khalifa University. Five were selected, all of whom are women and two of whom are Emirati.

The programme, which is in its third year, is part of the US$150 million (Dh551m) gift given by the Abu Dhabi Government to the US Children’s National Medical Centre in 2009 to establish the institute and fund its research.

Each student will be assigned a project in the field of biomedical innovation and will be assessed through a written report and final presentation.

Zainab Moazzam, from Pakistan, hopes this opportunity will bring her one step closer to her dream job in neurosurgery.

“I always wanted to be a neurosurgeon and there I get the chance to work in the neurobiology lab in the pain clinic,” she said. “It will be a great experience for me to see how the research is progressing in neuroscience, and that’s what pushed me to apply.”

During their time at the institute, students will be exposed to the latest developments in technology, including three-dimensional printing, where doctors will be producing synthetic models of hearts using a medically aligned 3D printer.

Students will participate in a three-day “Medical Hackathon”, where they will be asked to design a mobile application that addresses childhood obesity. They will also attend the first symposium on paediatric surgical innovation, where a number of experts and policymakers will be present.

That all of those selected from the UAE are women was not a surprise to the students, who have always believed women are just as capable as men.

“It’s important that we have the contribution of women in innovation and that they are competing with men in this field,” said Noaf Salah, from Iraq. “They need to be role models for others who want to follow in their footsteps.”

One shared inspiration strings these young women together – the hope to make a difference. Enas Azhari, from Sudan, hopes to do so through her research, which will be on developing a reverse vaccine to cure multiple sclerosis.

“Since I was a little child, I’ve always wanted to do something new to help the world,” she said. “Now we can apply the knowledge we have learnt and take a glimpse at how our future jobs are going to be.”

mismail@thenational.ae