Meet L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Winner Hessa Ebrahim Ali Alfalahi

Lindsay Judge   |   13-12-2022

PhD student Hessa Ebrahim Ali Alfalahi was recognised by the programme for her research on the detection and diagnosis of depression and Parkinson’s disease using data collected through novel Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms.


Knowing that early detection is the key to saving lives, Alfalahi has made it her mission to help develop new technology that will catch neuropsychiatric disorders before it’s too late. We find out more.



Can you give us a brief overview of your research and project?

My research looks at leveraging AI algorithms for the early detection of depression using smartphone data. By looking at finger kinematics during typing captured as a series of timestamps of key presses and key releases, I aim to be able to detect early psychomotor impairment which, in turn, can lead to the passive and early diagnosis of depression.



Why is this an area you are particularly interested in? 

Despite decades of research, neuropsychiatric disorders, such as depression and Parkinson’s disease, are usually detected years after neurodegeneration (loss of function of neurons) and neural perturbation. Early diagnosis of these disorders is crucial for proper symptom management and sustained quality of life. In parallel, the tremendous advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in recent years is currently resulting in promising accuracy in diagnosis when performed correctly.



What more would you like to see being done in the region surrounding this?

There is a pressing need to represent Arab populations in AI algorithms for the early detection of neuropsychiatric disorders. One of the major obstacles is the unavailability of data and the difficulty in recruiting healthy and diseased participants in clinical trials and validation studies. What we need in the future is better collaboration between medical experts and data scientists. Further, we need to disseminate awareness to the public regarding the beneficial aspects of enrolling in such studies.



What will this platform allow you to do in terms of furthering your work moving forward? 

With this platform, I am more motivated to enhance my research outcomes and reach a world-class scientific outcome by leveraging efficient research facilities. I am proud to be recognized by L’Oreal.



What is the biggest challenge you face?

Finding answers to questions no one asked before.



In an industry that is often dominated by men, how do you ensure your voice is heard? 

By working hard, and proving that my effort is translated to an impact, through scientific publications in prestigious journals and the novel outcomes achieved throughout the research journey.



What does it mean to you to represent your country in the world of science?

I am more than pleased and honoured to be granted the L’Oreal UNESCO For Women in Science and to represent my country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on such a prestigious platform. The leadership of the UAE is and will always be a major source of inspiration and support for which I am forever grateful. I look forward to taking an active role in the knowledge-driven development of the UAE and the Middle East Region.



What is the professional motto that you live by? 

“The world needs science, and science needs women”