Meet Young Scientist Dr. Maha Zakariya Yahya Al-Riyami

Lindsay Judge   |   22-12-2022

Dr. Maha Zakariya Yahya Al-Riyami was one of five women chosen for the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Middle East Regional Young Talents Program this year.


Born in Omani pursued research into investigating underlying causes of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases that can lead to their prevention. We find out more about her work and her progress so far.


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

I study different aspects of diabetes in my research, but my main interest is Type 1 diabetes. This form of diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by the immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, resulting in their destruction. In one project, I aim to continue my Ph.D. project that was under the supervision of Prof. Constantin Polychronakos at McGill University, where we investigated the potential contribution of somatic (spontaneous, non-inherited) mutations in causing Type 1 diabetes. Now, I aim to look at the effect of such mutations on the function of immune cells (T-cell). This may add to the known causes of Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases as a common pathogenetic mechanism.


Why is this an area or topic you were particularly passionate about?

Type 1 diabetes is a serious disease. It can develop at any age, but it mainly affects children. For these kids, an exogenous insulin supply is necessary for their survival and is usually in the form of multiple daily injections or an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes also causes life-long health complications. Although intensively studied, type 1 diabetes’s underlying mechanisms are still not fully understood, and the known genetic and environmental factors do not explain it all. All of this makes research aiming to understand the causes of this disease highly important.


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

Many great studies have been conducted in the region focusing on diabetes in general or Type 1 diabetes as a whole, but what I personally would like do, is to collaborate with other scientists and institutions in the region working on type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases to combine the efforts to understand these diseases in the Middle East.



What does it mean to you for your work to be recognised by a global institution such as L’Oreal and what will this platform allow you to do in terms of furthering your work moving forward?

I am very grateful and thankful for this recognition. It’s a great honour that such a great global institution has recognized my work and it’s also great motivation for me to keep working and moving forward to attain my research goals. This recognition will definitely play a key role in realizing my scientific goals and establishing my research independence. As well as advancing my research career. Also, this recognition is giving me an international platform to showcase my work and research, enabling me to establish global and regional collaborations in my research work in diabetes. I’d like to thank L’Oréal for such great recognition and to give thanks and gratitude to Sultan Qaboos University, which established me scientifically and gave me the opportunity and the scholarships to continue my higher education at McGill University, one of the leading universities in the world. And also, to all my supervisors and colleagues who mentored, supported, and believed in me over the years.


What is the biggest challenge you face in what you do?

My academic and research goals and aims are big and the challenge for me is to attain all these goals in the time period I aiming for.


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

In the Sultanate of Oman, women have always been encouraged and supported to learn, work and contribute equally in every field, not only in science. And there are no limitations to women’s contribution. And there is a great number of Omani women working in science and research who have outstanding achievements and contributions in the field and who have also received several international and regional awards, such as the Loreal-UNESCO for women in science before me. Moreover, my university (Sultan Qaboos University) and my colleagues have always supported and encouraged me.


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

It’s a great honour and a responsibility as well to represent my country the Sultanate of Oman and the Omani women. And I hope to represent my country at the highest level.


What is something you would still like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I am still at the beginning of my research career and have many goals I would like to accomplish. One of them is to continue sharpening my research skills and my knowledge in the field. And to establish a big research lab focusing on diabetes research and have my research team. Moreover, I aim to collaborate internationally with scientists and laboratories from different institutions and countries.


What is the professional motto that you live by?

“There are 86,400 seconds in a day. It’s up to you to decide what to do with them.”- Jim Valvano