Postdoctoral Associate Mohamed Al Sayegh recently won the Sheikh Rashid Award for Academic Excellence. Sponsored by the Dubai Cultural and Scientific Association, the prize is given to Emirati researchers who have excelled in academics. Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, presented the award to Al Sayegh at a ceremony in Dubai.
A biologist and a native of Abu Dhabi, Al Sayegh studies cell differentiation of neurons in the lab of Esteban Mazzoni, assistant professor of Biology at NYU. Cell differentiation is a process that involves a network of signaling factors and genomic binding events through which cells gain specificity, becoming neurons, skin cells, or other types of cells.
Al Sayegh focuses on spinal motor neurons, which are cells derived from the spinal cord, and cranial motor neurons, which are cells derived from the brain stem. Both cell types are involved in functions such as sensory information (cranial), and body movement (spinal). They are fascinating to study because they could potentially be used to treat patients who suffer from degenerative motor diseases, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
In the lab, Al Sayegh works with induced pluripotent stem cells that have been programed to become spinal or cranial motor neurons. (They are described as "pluripotent" because they have the capacity to develop into several — but not all — types of cells.) He runs an analysis of these cells using RNA-sequencing, an approach that may help him and his colleagues understand how certain genes and transcription factors guide the process of cell differentiation.
When he returns to Abu Dhabi, Al Sayegh hopes to design a research project, similar to that of Esteban Mazzoni’s lab approach, which would confront diseases that are common in the UAE.
In addition to his desire to study disease, Al Sayegh is fascinated by the continual discovery that is involved in his current research. "Even though the human genome project mapped the genome more than ten years ago, there is still a lot to learn," he said. "When we find something that has not been mapped, or we understand a new biological function of a gene, it is extremely exciting."
Earlier this year, Al Sayegh was also awarded the young Emirati national research award, which is given to young researchers in the country.