Niveen M. Khashab: targeted diagnosis and improved treatments

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Niveen M. Khashab, laureate of 2017 L'Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science awards
© L'Oréal Foundation
07 April 2017

Each day, millions of drugs are taken to cure diseases. When delivered, these drugs travel through the entire body without targeting the specific cells to be treated. This produces lots of side effects and is inefficient. The nanoparticles designed by Professor Niveen M. Khashab address this issue, since they deliver the drugs where they are needed, allowing for targeted diagnosis and improved treatments with fewer side effects. She received the 2017 L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award for Africa and the Arab States, in recognition of her research.

Oxidative stress is at the heart of many disorders, like brain diseases or cancer. Being able to detect the phenomenon earlier would allow for much better patient outcomes. In 2014, Prof. Khashab published an article on an innovative technique for detecting oxidative stress in living cells. Already tested in vivo, the approach might help in the development of made-to-measure diagnostics in the future.

Another important discovery by Prof. Khashab is the design and synthesis of new kinds of particle assemblies called “colloidosomes”. These particles, whose permeability and elasticity can be precisely controlled, can deliver the drugs on demand upon light irradiation and provide a revolutionary system for delivering large components, such as proteins and genetic materials, which are at present difficult to deliver with accuracy.

Prof. Khashab is aware of how important her research might be for society in the future but she also worries about the negative impact it might have on the environment. “Although nanotechnology is a highly useful area, we must consider the potentially harmful effects of nanoparticles employed in medical therapies” she says. To address this concern, she recently developed a new generation of nanoparticles that naturally degrade when exposed to light.

For Prof. Khashab, who is the mother of three children, another important part of her work is the impact it will have on future generations. “Scientific discoveries are not just a matter of increasing personal knowledge, but most importantly for passing on this knowledge. In this context, women play a crucial role as natural passionate educators,” says the scientist, whose already impressive track record holds her in good stead for becoming an important ambassador for the sciences in the Middle East. At just 35, she has more than 90 publications, and already supervised thirteen students and is supervising another eight at the moment (five women and three men). In 2010, she left the United States after a brilliant career there, to become part of an emerging scientific community in the Middle East – at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. Today, her research is indeed a source of considerable inspiration for a new generation of scientists in this region of the world.

The 2017 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards

The 2017 Edition of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Awards Ceremony celebrated 5 eminent women scientists and their excellence, creativity and intelligence. For the past 19 years, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science programme has worked to honour and accompany women researchers at key moments in their careers. Since the programme began, it has supported more than 2,700 young women from 115 countries and celebrated 97 Laureates, at the peak of their careers, including professors Elizabeth H. Blackburn and Ada Yonath, who went on to win a Nobel Prize. The Awards are presented every year to five women, one from each world region (Africa and the Arab States, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America).