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Deakin offers new start for Iraqi scholar

Deakin offers new start for Iraqi scholar

A scholar rescue fund is allowing a medical researcher to continue her work at Deakin.

Ever since she heard the story of Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in high school in Baghdad, Dr Maysaa Al Mohammedawi has had a “passion to make something useful for human beings.”

She pursued her dream with determination – focussing on the medical potential of nanotechnology – and began an outstanding career at Al Nahrain University in Baghdad.

She completed her PhD at the age of 26 and became Assistant Professor at 30 in 2010 – one of the youngest researchers to gain this qualification at her university. She also supervised Masters and PhD students and has registered for a patent in biophysics in Iraq.

Given Iraq’s escalating political instability, Dr Maysaa’s promising academic career may have been stymied – if not for the support of a “Scholar Rescue Fund,” provided by the Institute of International Education (IIE-USA), and joint funding from Deakin University.

Dr Maysaa has been previously funded by Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research for post-doctoral training at Deakin in 2012. However, since then, independent travel for Iraqi women scholars has become increasingly less feasible.

The “Scholar Rescue” program has allowed her to continue her work at the Waurn Ponds campus since 2014.

“Iraq is in my heart, but Australia is my soul which keeps my heart. It has provided me with support and hugged me when I needed it,” said Dr Maysaa.

“The staff at Deakin and people of Geelong have been very friendly. Many have opened their homes to make me feel welcome.”

Since arriving at Deakin, Dr Maysaa has been trained in research on the targeting of colon cancer through developing “nano” formulations at Deakin’s Nanomedicine Laboratory of Immunology and Molecular Biomedical Research.

The lab in the School of Medicine is jointly run by Professor Jagat Kanwar and Dr Rupinder Kaur Kanwar, who, amongst many achievements, have developed anti-tumour drugs that are set to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment across the globe within a decade.

“At Deakin we are delighted to have been able to help Dr Maysaa in this way,” said Dr Kanwar.

“As well as supporting her on a personal level, we are providing her with all the professional resources she needs to build her academic career.

“She will also deliver live lectures to students in Iraq, through videoconferencing, which aligns with the IIE-USA funding aims, and interact with students from Iraq.”

Dr Maysaa’s area of research, nanomedicine, is being hailed as “The Brave New World” of modern medicine.

She is working on coating anti-tumour drugs with biodegradable polymers to improve protection of patients’ normal cells – offering hope of less side effects and potentially prolonging life in the future. Her findings will be published in nanoscience journals later this year.

“There is an increase in the incidence of cancer in Iraq, as a result of the war, and increases in the number of newborns with deformities,” she said.

“When Iraq is safe, I want to return and use what I have learnt to help my people.”

Dr Kanwar also acknowledged the support she had received from Deakin Research, School of Medicine and Faculty of Health in her bid to “salvage an aspiring young woman scientist’s threatened academic career.”

“We have received unconditional support from the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Professor Lee Astheimer, the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research Development and Training), Professor Joe Graffam, Professor Tes Toop,  Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health), Professor Brendan Crotty, Professor Jon Watson (Head, School of Medicine), Professor Alister Ward (Associate Head of the School of Medicine, Research) and Ms Rose Firkin (Executive Officer – Research Grants And Contracts).

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