Sweating through the humidity some 35 kilometers from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Wael Abdrabou and his colleagues from NYU Abu Dhabi concentrate on drawing a blood sample from a child. Abdrabou and the team of researchers travel to the west African country often to study the impact of malaria on local children.
With more than two million cases of malaria detected in 2015, the nationwide epidemic requires urgent attention. Abdrabou, a Global PhD Fellow in Biology, is trying to figure out why the responses to malaria differs from one child to another and from one ethnic group to another. Children between 2 and 12 are the most commonly affected group.
The team draws samples from unaffected children before the rainy season, followed up during major transmission season, and then gather samples from children who are found to be infected.
With so many variables including ethnic background and age, Abdrabou is trying to address a lot of factors through different biological approaches such as metabolomic, transcriptomic, and genotype profiling.
“I’m grateful to be able to work on all these omics data and pursue something novel attempting to integrate between all of them in the context of malaria... It’s a huge project,” he said.
Thanks to research funding from NYUAD, Abdrabou and his colleagues can afford to study the complete metabolic profiles of small molecules (metabolites) in young children and investigate the role and impact these metabolites have on the progression of infection. They use different approaches to study both hosts and parasites at a metabolome and genome-wide level.
“For a researcher, it’s a dream come true,” Abdrabou said. Not needing to wait for equipment means Abdrabou can run sample tests quickly and easily. “This lab for me has the right resources to learn as well as to expand and further advance my research,” he added.
PhD fellows at NYUAD get to study their courses at the New York campus for a year, and then come back to Abu Dhabi to complete their project.
“You get exposed to two great campuses: one in New York, and one in Abu Dhabi,” Abdrabou explained. The Egyptian who moved to the United States over 20 years ago thinks the location of NYUAD is ideal: “I get an American education in a land I really enjoy being in.”
“Your mentor is like a compass. He directs you towards the right direction… and that’s how I feel with Professor Youssef.” Wael Abdrabou, Global PhD Fellow in Biology
Abdrabou also says while it’s good to have a starting point to your research, he has learned that things can change, especially once you’ve had an in-depth conversation with your mentor. “A mentor who will push you to do things that are outside of the norm.”
As a graduate student, Abdrabou gets to work on things that are usually reserved for postdoctoral students such as writing grants, and doing Institutional Review Board approval for doing research work. “Professor Youssef trusts me with these projects… and gives me a lot of control,” Abdrabou said.
All these added responsibilities has helped Abdrabou become familiar with establishing studies from the start and getting approvals.
During his time at NYUAD, Abdrabou was also published in Nature Metabolism and also received the NYU Charlotte Pann Research Award for senior doctoral student who has demonstrated outstanding research accomplishments and potential.
“This kind of experience prepares me for what’s next."
NYU Abu Dhabi works closely with researchers in Burkina Faso to figure how genetics might be responsible for the wide variation in the severity of malaria.