A Sharjah lecturer on a mission to boost breast cancer survival rates and an Abu Dhabi researcher out to save the planet were among the winners of a prestigious regional award celebrating the achievements of women in science.
The L’Oréal-Unesco For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Programme recognises enterprising females making a crucial contribution in vital fields such as health care, the environment and space exploration each year.
The scheme, organised in partnership with Abu Dhabi's Khalifa University of Science and Technology, has delivered more than Dh3 million of funding to 51 Arab women since it was launched in 2014.
Post doctorate winners receive grants of €20,000 (Dh78,627), with PhD researchers securing €8,000 to support their work in sciences and maths.
This year's 11 beneficiaries were honoured at a ceremony held at The St Regis Dubai, The Palm.
Advancing cancer research
Noha Mousaad Elemam, a senior lecturer in immunology at the University of Sharjah, said the accolade gave her belief she was on the "right track" in her efforts to boost understanding of breast cancer.
Ms Elemam, 33, is working to develop biomarkers, which will help to detect the disease earlier in the hope of saving more lives.
The funds will allow her to broaden her research.
“I had to read the message [informing her of her win] three times to make sure it was really true," she said.
"It is a blessing that came at the right time. It was also very unexpected. But at the same time, it felt like a message that I was on the right track and to continue in what I was doing."
Her message to others hoping to make a difference in the world is simple.
“Follow what you’re passionate about. You will reach it one day.”
Ms Elemam said she was compelled to take action during the Covid-19 pandemic, when cases of breast cancer exceeded those of lung cancer for the first time.
“I’ve had personal experiences where I’ve seen members of the family suffer from other diseases, where actually their immune system plays a role," she said.
"So whether it was viral infections or other disorders, this was one of the things that triggered me throughout my childhood – that I want to understand the immune system, I want to know how it can control all these diseases and how just a small malfunction can change the whole system.
"The prize money will help pursue further research."
Addressing climate change
Sara Ishaq Alkhoori, 28, a PhD research student at Khalifa University, is exploring how biofuel production can be used to mitigate carbon emissions and safeguard the environment.
"My research involves producing and using biofuels from a renewable source like palm oil to create safe and clean transport fuel that can alleviate negative effects on the climate," she said.
“This aligns perfectly with the UAE Year of Sustainability and Cop28's global climate goals."
The young mother said her family's support has helped her to pursue her ambitions.
“Today I know that the support system that I had – my husband first and then my family, my academic adviser – they all really stood by my side and supported me in everything," she said.
"That was really a critical for me to continue in the field of science. And I think this would be a challenge for some young scientists but it shouldn’t stop from chasing their dreams or following their passion – that shouldn’t be the case.”
She sent out an inspiring message to other women with high aspirations.
“Embrace your passion, believe in your abilities and never let anything hold you back. Keep pushing boundaries, breaking stereotypes and inspiring future generations of women in science. We have the power to make a difference," she said.
UAE minister hails female 'game-changers'
The annual programme is supported by another trailblazer, Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency.
“The extraordinary accomplishments and dedication of women scientists in the region has paved the way for progress in various fields, influencing everything from health care and technology to environment sustainability and space exploration,” she said.
“Initiatives like the one by the Foundation L’Oréal and Unesco has been empowering female game-changers, encouraging more women into Stem [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] careers, and paving the way towards diversity. Such programmes create a necessary foundation in our pursuit for scientific progress, innovation and a more inclusive society.”
Ms Al Amiri was included on the 2022 Time100 Impact Awards list, which honoured global leaders who are effecting change.
She was also part of the BBC's 100 Women 2020, recognising the most influential women of the year.
Laurent Duffier, managing director of L’Oréal Middle East, said the awards scheme aimed to inspire future generations of women scientists.
"When these remarkable researchers are celebrated and their achievements spotlighted, it serves as a catalyst for other women, compelling them to embrace and pursue careers in Stem," said Mr Duffier.
"We invested a total of Dh3.4 million in endowments to propel their research aspirations. This financial support has done more than just fund projects. It provided the young female scientists the means to convert their scientific visions into tangible discoveries to broaden the impact they can bring to the scientific community and beyond, as well as to enrich lives on a grand scale."