Saudi woman scientist at the forefront of polymer chemistry research

Yazeed Alsanad
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There has been celebrations all over Saudi social media blogs over the extraordinary accomplishments of a female Saudi scientist. They have hailed the scientific achievements of Dr. Ghada Almutarie.

Saudis and many Arab social media surfers painted Ghada as pride of all Arabs and Muslims, asserting the worthiness of her research to future Nobel Prize nomination. During Friday prayers, Minister Sheikh Adnan Ibrahim described Ghada as “pride for the entire nation that will change the world of medical care”.

However, despite the adulation, Saudis have expressed disappointment over the manner in which Ghada, and other Saudi female scientists, has been presented in Saudi and Arab media. The demand is that scientists should get the same, if not more, attention as celebrities.

Research outputs of Ghada are no stranger in an era of Saudi women glory. Saud Alyumni tweeted that “Ghada is a reborn of the Arab woman, one that would redefine the Arab woman forever”.

Despite the stereotypes surrounding the country, Saudi Arabia is home to some highly influential women in the world. Stories of successful female scientists, scholars and businesswomen surface in the desert Kingdom all the time.

Hayat Sendi, a UNESCO goodwill ambassador for science education and UN Secretary General Scientific Advisor, Thoraya Obaid, the 2001 Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Khawla Alkhuraya; a leading genomic cancer researcher, Huda Alghuson,Saudi Aramco Excutive Director of Human resources, and many others are taking the lead in many domestic and international institutions.

Ghada Almutairi is a Saudi polymer chemist. However, she chooses to introduce herself as a “nano- constructor” or “plastic surgeon”. Since an early age, she prepared herself to qualify for major global challenges. Her problem solving skills always hold her in good stead while facing challenges in her personal and professional lives.

Coming from a family of scientists, Ghada’s dreams knows no limits. Soon after completing her high school in Jeddah, she moved to the US to obtain her undergraduate and graduate degrees. But high certificates were never going to satisfy Ghada’s ambitions. Soon, she entered the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).

Professor Almutairi has been a faculty member at the University of UCSD since 2008. She is the director of UCSD’s Center of Excellence in Nanomedicine, a rapidly expanding interdisciplinary research collaborative team developing tools for the future of biology and medicine. Her primary appointment is in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and she is a member of the departments of NanoEngineering, and Radiology.

Her novel inventions mark the perfect match between chemistry and medical sciences. Once described by fellow scientists as “elegant impractical chemistry”, Ghada’s numerous researches led to a revolution in today’s medical world.

Smart polymers

Ghada’s innovative spirit led her to merge various fields for the good of humanity. Together with her brother, a plastic surgeon, and the FDA, she is now working to develop human clinical trials for a better way to perform liposuction. But Ghada’s biggest achievement at UCSD is probably best known for designing and developing smart polymers, nanoparticles and hydrogels for many innovative medical and research applications.

At a conference in Berlin recently, Almutairi announced her most recent research based on merging light-activated nanoparticles and lanthanides to increase sufficiency of solar energy.

But solar energy and desalination won’t be the end of Ghada’s creativity. The vast array of practical uses of her research — touching on everything from diabetes to MRI imaging — draws great interest from pharmaceutical, cosmetic, chemical and energy companies all over the world.

Major companies like Dow, Merck, L’Oréal, biologists, engineers and everyone seem excited about Almutairi’s work can be implemented.

Almutairi’s work has won her numerous awards and given her access to funds including: UC Dissertation Award, UC Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship, PhRMA Foundation Starter Grant, and NIH New Innovator Award.

But Almutairi’s dedication to her work never let her lose her true identity. “I owe everything in my life to my parents, family and my country, Saudi Arabia, which I indescribably love,” Ghada says in a recent interview in Al-Riyadh newspaper.

“The Saudi King has always been keen on developing our beloved country and people. Our Saudi youth has all potential for success, only if executives facilitate the appropriate environment and support for them,” she adds.

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