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Saudi Scientist Dr Maha Al Mozaini Finds Power In Supporting Other Women

The Saudi infectious disease, immunology and virology expert believes in the power of the pack…

Thanks to initiatives like the L’Oreal-Unesco For Women in Science programme, female scientists, including Arab ones, are getting the spotlight they deserve. Dr Maha Al Mozaini, one of the programme’s former Middle East fellows, is certainly one who deserves to be celebrated. The Saudi scientist and Director of the Immunocompromised Host Research section in the department of infection and immunity at Riyadh’s King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center (KFSH&RC) has been making waves for her research into immunodeficiency diseases. Her outstanding exploration and achievements in the field earned her the L'Oréal and UNESCO award for Best Woman in Science in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as countless other accolades and honours. These include one at the Arab Women Council Awards and the Global Health Pioneer Award in Science from Arab Health.

However, Al Mozaini, who got her Ph.D. in Molecular Virology from Imperial College London, stands out in other ways too. This includes what she has done to support female carriers of HIV/AIDS and help save them from the stigma that surrounds the disease. She was behind getting a non-profit organisation for women living with HIV, including those who inadvertently contracted the virus through heterosexual contact with their husbands, approved (after a five-year battle to register it.) The researcher, a former research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School’s infectious disease division, is also known for empowering and mentoring young women in STEM.

After moving back from the US, Al Mozaini launched an immunocompromised host research programme in Saudi Arabia and established an Immunocomprmised Host Research division at KFSH&RC. Initially, Al Mozaini sought to help organ transplant recipients fight infection, but she went on to extend her research, and this included diseases that weakened the immune system like lupus, multiple sclerosis and the notorious HIV. The research and development expert actually established the first HIV laboratory at the medical centre, where she had been a post-doctoral fellow. (KFSH&RC is also where she has been awarded and granted two scholarships.)

Due to the taboos surrounding HIV at the time, Al Mozaini, one of the few investigators conducting HIV-1 related research in her country, faced many obstacles at first, including lack of research around the GCC area and funding. As well as a dedication to further advancing the international collaboration of study on HIV and transplants that was initiated with MGH, Ragon and Harvard, she made awareness a priority. Additionally, the go-getting scientist had a one-year stint as a temporary adviser to the World Health Organization’s National AIDS Program.

Al Mozaini is also an educator who has been working as Adjunct Professor at Riyadh’s King Saud University since 2013. Additionally, she has been associated with several Saudi cancer organisations, as well as international ones like the American Society for Transplantation, the British Society of Microbiology and the International AIDS Society. And would it surprise you that she is the mother of three daughters who have also made it a goal to succeed in the world of STEM ? 

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