Ghada Al-Mutairi — Saudi scientist who changed the concept of surgery

Ghada Al-Mutairi — Saudi scientist who changed the concept of surgery

February 05, 2016
Ghada Al-Mutairi
Ghada Al-Mutairi

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An ambitious Saudi woman has yet again proved sky is the limit for excellence. Ghada Mutlaq Al-Mutairi, 39, received a $3 million global innovation award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest organization supporting medical research in the United States, for her invention that changed the way surgical procedures are carried out in the country.

Al-Mutairi, who holds a doctorate in materials chemistry, currently lives in the US. She is a faculty member at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and director of the Center of Excellence in Nanomedicine.

Al-Mutairi invented a nano-capsule that can pinpoint inflammations within human body and release drugs to treat them using a laser. The US Congress selected her work as one of the four most important inventions in the country in 2012.

Al-Mutairi talked to Al-Riyadh newspaper recently about her invention. She said biology operates at nanoscale and therefore materials designed at that size can respond more effectively to disease. At  present, doctors have very little control of where, when, and how drugs act in the body. “We want these processes to work precisely in order to minimize off-target effects,” Al-Mutairi said.

She said her invention has been highly effective in eye and rheumatoid surgeries. The technology can be applied to other fields, such as industry, agriculture, science and engineering, and a large number of people could benefit from it, she added.

Ghada Al-MutairiIn Al-Mutairi’s opinion, the real value of a human being comes from the mark they leave behind. She said this was why she dedicated her life to scientific research.

Al-Mutairi conceived the idea of her device 10 years ago when she was told by cardiac surgeons about the biggest problem they faced: arterial obstruction that leads to myocardial infarctions.

The doctors could not tell if the obstruction was caused by an inflammation.

Al-Mutairi started looking deep into the matter, and after considering how to identify, locate and destroy the infection, she came up with a capsule that can carry drugs to the area of infection and treat it with a laser.

The project was not simple and it took her 10 years to come up with the innovation in 2011 before she was finally able to develop the nano-technology-based capsule in 2013.

Her invention was applied to treat eye diseases and rheumatoid arthritis in the US. It was so successful that a Japanese company contacted UCSD, saying it wanted to use the invention for agricultural applications.

Pfizer Corporation showed interest in purchasing the patent while several other pharmaceutical companies around the world wanted to benefit from it.

Al-Mutairi earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2000 from Occidental University in Los Angeles, and her master’s in biochemistry from the University of California. After obtaining her doctorate in chemical engineering in 2005, she went on to produce numerous research papers.

Al-Mutairi has three brothers and a sister, and the medical field runs deep in the family.

One of her brothers, Khalid Al-Mutairi, is a well-known plastic surgeon in the United States. Another of her brothers is a professor at Houston University, Texas, and the third is a dentist practicing in Jeddah, while her sister is a radiologist in Boston.

“My mother studied chemistry, and we are what we are because of her. She was a smart woman who dedicated her life to bring up her five children,” Al-Mutairi said.

She attributed her success to a combination of optimism and determination, as well as hard work.

Al-Mutairi said she follows up on developments in Saudi Arabia. “I love my country and am proud of it, whether I am in the United States or elsewhere in the world.”

She said she hopes application of nanotechnology would become widespread in the Kingdom soon.

In her opinion, innovation has no limits; currently she is supporting research aimed at finding ways to effectively remove fat from human body.

February 05, 2016