Scientific research is challenging enough. But for Dr. Mareb Hamed, geopolitical upheaval in her home country of Iraq threatened not only her research, but also her survival. Dr. Hamed’s story, and how Science Exchange became a part of that story, inspires our team to keep doing what we do — helping scientists connect.
Studying Growth-Restricted Fetuses in War-Torn Iraq
Mareb Hamed graduated at the top of her class from the Medical University in Mosul, Iraq, a city which was, at its peak, a cultural and educational center. In the 1990s, the political situation worsened under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and Dr. Hamed and her husband left Iraq and moved to Libya.
When war started in Libya, Dr. Hamed returned to Iraq but could not re-obtain her former position of assistant professor, much to her frustration.“So I enrolled in the PhD program,” she explained, “in order to advance my career and because I liked research.”
Dr. Hamed began her research project in 2014, investigating the effect of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) on placental biomarkers. IUGR can be caused by multiple factors and is a leading cause of neonatal deaths.
From Researcher to Refugee
Dr. Hamed had collected a number of placenta samples from local hospitals when the Arabs entered Mosul, killing or forcing the departure of countless scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and other professionals.
“I became a refugee in Erbil city,” recounted Dr. Hamed. “I lost everything. My house, my car..even the placenta samples that I was collecting.”
“But I knew I had to complete my PhD — I knew I had to start over and complete my research. So I continued my research at the University of Erbil, renting a small condo so that I could start working.”
Erbil to St. Louis: Science Exchange Opens Gateway to Collaboration
At the University of Kurdistan in Erbil, Dr. Hamed started collecting placentas again, and she was able to complete the histology and the immunohistochemistry on these samples. But the remaining analysis, which required electron microscopy, proved very difficult and cost-prohibitive.
“I started searching on the internet,” she continued, “and I found Science Exchange, and through Science Exchange, a provider who could do the microscopy for me.”
Dr. Hamed started sending her placenta capsule samples through DHL to the provider, an academic core laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis. The provider lab did the sectioning and the staining, and started sending Dr. Hamed the images by email.
“The microscopy images they sent me were very nice,” said Dr. Hamed. “Even during the defense of my thesis, I was told, “You have very nice pictures.”
The Surprise, and the Legacy
Dr. Hamed successfully defended her thesis, in which she acknowledged Science Exchange and her collaborators in St. Louis. She has since gone on to continue her research in Mosul and also provide medical assistance and training to other dislocated and disadvantaged Iraqis — showing that the power of scientific connections goes far beyond an electron microscope.