KFAS News

Dr. Laila Habib excelled in her research and won the UNESCO “For Women in Science" Award.
November 13, 2016

Its prevalence in the Arab World and Kuwait in particular urged me to try to tackle it ."

This was what motivated Dr. Laila Habib, the Assistant Professor at The Faculty of Medicine, Kuwait University, to choose the topic of her main research after receiving support from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences allowing her to convert her theoretical research into reality.

It was this creative research which enabled Dr. Habib, who acquired a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of California-San Diego, to win the L'OREAL-UNESCO "For Women in Science" award for her outstanding and unique contribution to the progress of science. This well-deserved recognition has enabled Dr. Habib to join the list of exceptional women scientists who have contributed to scientific knowledge and have accelerated the process to change the world for the better.

The FWIS Laureate’s research revolved around developing muscular dystrophy patient- specific induced pluripotent stem cell based assays for disease modeling.

Dr. Laila Habib, who worked as a research scientist in the stem cell unit in Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute in San Diego, said on the occasion of winning the award: "The L'OREAL-UNESCO award sheds the light on the role of women and the importance of their participation in various branches of science and encourages women to exhibit their research ability to promote and develop their communities."

Dr. Laila praised the role of KFAS which played a crucial role in realizing her search by saying: "KFAS believed in funding my research as it is a leader in supporting and funding research and scientific projects. It paid full attention to the progress of my research until I reaped the fruits of its uniqueness. KFAS has not confined its role to funding only but has made sure to be the link between me and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT so that I avail myself to the full resources needed to apply my research.”

On KFAS initiative, Eng. Yusuf Al-Mazidi, Director of the Office of International Programs at the Foundation, said:” We at KFAS are fully aware of the importance of embracing and nurturing the ideas of researchers to turn their ideas into reality that would be to our community benefit. This position does commensurate with our objective to encourage national sustainability by supporting scientific and technological research efforts characterized by creativity and innovation. We also have many partnerships with prestigious international universities and global research institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), dedicated to promote academic and scientific partnership needed by researchers in their work. Dr. Laila Habib’s research is one of dozens supported by the Foundation, seeking to remove barriers to researchers' initiatives, thus enabling them to free their potentials and excel.

During the course of her research, Dr. Habib conducted laboratory experiments and research to develop models of pathological muscle atrophy, which is a group of genetic disorders that cause gradual muscle weakness which may lead over time to loss of the ability to move and, in some severe cases, the respiratory and central nervous system and heart muscles may be impacted.

Although the disease is rare worldwide, Dr. Habib’s research has shown that it is more common in Arab countries and in Kuwait. Dr. Habib has conducted during the course of her advanced research a diagnosis for patients with muscular dystrophy to determine the genetic mutation they might have in cooperation with Mubarak hospital and Ibn Sina hospital in Kuwait. It was the first daring research of its kind and a process that has never been previously conducted in Kuwait.

After diagnosing patients with muscular dystrophy, a small sample of their skin cells was extracted to convert them into stimulating pluripotent stem cells by genetically reprogramming them in collaboration with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Habib commented "these cells are created from skin cells extracted from the patient and are similar to embryonic stem cells with the ability to rejuvenate and renew themselves and transform into any type of cell in the body thus providing large volume of specialized cells related to the disease (such as muscle cells) which contain each patient's unique genetic mutation. This scheme will be the base of our plan of modelling and studying diseases and determining the suitable treatment."

Dr. Laila concluded by a message dedicated to women encouraging them to utilize their full potential to achieve their ambition and by collaborating with the entities which offer support and networking. Dr. Habib cited the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences, which embraces all initiatives that pushes science forward.