The Scientist Way

STILL only in her 20’s, Dr. Hayat Sindi has invented a machine combining the effects of light and ultra-sound for use in the esoteric field of biotechnology. Despite offers of $350 million for research and development from prospective manufactures and commercial partners, including the UK aviation industry and NASA, she wants the development costs and subsequent benefits to involve the Arab world.

Described by Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to Britain as “a model Arab woman” in his opening speech for the 8th Businesswomen’s Conference in London, she has adhered to her wish that the fruits of her research be shared by the Arab world.

“I want Arab countries to benefit from this new machine and my research,” she said. I’m still waiting for an offer from a Muslim Arab country. I’m committed to my principles and I believe that a person must leave a mark that benefits the human race however I want to begin this benefit in the lands where my roots are.”

The new device very accurately chooses the suitable medications in dealing with different cancers. It reveals the protein or the signification of cancer, which is difficult to do with the means that are currently available now.

However due to the machine’s sensitivity and accuracy, the protein can be detected in the very early stages of the disease. Consequently the medication can be started earlier and many patients can be saved.

“The lab tests have proved its success,” sys Dr. Sindi, “and I am currently working on producing it at a small size so that any doctor can use it in their clinic.”

The machine also has uses in environmental preservation projects, has applications in research by astronauts — because it is made of glass that resist influence — and is simple to use.

The genesis of the new device was Dr.iven by need. After graduating with BA in pharmacology from Kings College and beginning research in the science of medicine and its compounds, Dr. Sindi I needed an accurate machine to assist in research. “I decided to move from pharmacology to physics and,” she said “I applied for a grant at Cambridge University.”

Initially hampered by lack of scientific background, she managed to convince them of her ability to succeed and so she I began from the bottom of the ladder. “They supported me until I got a Ph.D in biotechnology and I’m still working at Schlumberger lab research center in Cambridge where I produced the device.”

Dr. Sindi attributes her flare for biotechnology to her love of its complexity and its seminal position among other disciplines including engineering, genetics, physics, and chemistry.

“It’s the father of sciences and it covers areas in life such as agriculture, medicine, manufacture, environment.”

She is currently collaborating with scientists in the company she works with to use biotechnology tools with genes, bacteria, and microbes to change the fluidity of oil so that it can be pumped and transported more easily.

“We use the same scientific methodology in a unique project that uses microbes and bacteria to purify sewerage water and change it to pure water suitable for Dr.inking without financial cost,” she said.

The major project is being carried out in partnership with the universities of Exeter and Cambridge. “I feel proud to be taking part in such an important project, especially that there will be the utmost need of water in the world during the next 20 years.”

Dr. Sindi is unique in that she is not the only Arab woman in the field, but the only woman in the world.

“In Britain, in the field of biotechnology does not accept women,” she said, “and when I graduated from Cambridge with honors one of the female professors at the university told me that I deserve recognition because I ‘raised the heads’ of women around the world and not just Arabs.”

As a partner in the company, she has to travel to different places such Harvard, Stanford, Tokyo and Moscow. “When they first see me I see the shock on their faces for I’m young, petite and a Muslim woman who covers (wear ‘hijab’ on my head).”

She is regularly stopped and questioned about how she excelled to this point and how achieved these degrees in such complex fields. “ I’m initially taken lightly but by the time I leave there is total respect, appreciation, acknowledgement and pride in my accomplishments.”

Scientific research is never finished, and after her success in this rare discipline, she Dr.eams that biotechnology develops in our Arab countries. There are only six countries known for this branch of science even though it’s an old science. Simple baking uses the science by involving yeast for fermentation.

“It is a science that controls live cells and bacteria for people’s benefit.”

Dr. Sindi feels that the reason biotechnology hasn’t penetrated the Arab world is partly financial, partly cultural. She says it is just beginning to take off in the Arab world. The main problem is money.

“Investors want to see immediate profit,” she said. “Biotechnology researches are profitable but only after quite some time. We’re dealing with live cells that need time to mature.”

She feels private sector investors have little patience so that government financial support is essential.

“Other countries have been conducting research in biotechnology for 15 years while we haven’t done anything. Such research is essential for medicine and oil.”

To get to where she is, the journey has been tough. Her father, not a wealthy man, was committed that she received the best education.

After she graduated from high school in Saudi Arabia she enrolled in the Medical College. “I have loved research since I was a child but in order to make my Dr.eam come true I needed to travel abroad. That was an unacceptable socially and difficult financially. She was the oldest of 8 siblings — girls don’t get scholarships.

For two years, this restricted her, but when my parents saw how unhappy I was they trusted me and did all that they could to enable me to go.

In Britain, they didn’t recognize her degree so she had to study from secondary level again. For a year she studied long hours in a small unheated room. “Still, I kept my faith and beliefs as a Muslim girl. When I first started at Cambridge a well-known scientist told me that I’d fail unless I let go of my cover ‘hijab’ and changed my ways. He gave me three months to fail.”

And as they say that remark, and the rest, is history!

Written by: Maali Al-Ghamry

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