Elsevier Foundation Women in Science Awards

Women chemists from developing countries honored for research of natural medicinal compounds

Five chemists were presented with the Elsevier Foundation Award for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World for research that looks to nature for ways to address cancer, malaria and other medical problems. The winning researchers, representing five regions of the developing world, are from Indonesia, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The prizes are awarded by The Elsevier Foundation, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) and The World Academy of Sciences for the advancement of science in developing countries (TWAS) with the aim of building scientific strength and advancing scientific knowledge in developing countries.

The winners received their awards during a ceremony Saturday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Chicago. The prize included $5,000 and all-expenses paid attendance at the meeting. The focus of the 2014 competition was chemistry. A selection panel of eminent chemists independently selected each winner based on her achievements, finding that the best candidates all had impressive accomplishments in applying the chemistry of nature to pharmaceutical science.

"The winners of the 2014 Elsevier Foundation prizes are impressive not just for their research, but also for their potential," said TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi. "Certainly these awards could bring them exciting new opportunities for research. We also believe that, over time, these researchers also will fulfill their potential as teachers and mentors, as partners in international projects and as advisers to governments. Such leadership can make a long-lasting contribution to global science."

Fang Xin, president of OWSD, said: "These five women, like all women undertaking scientific research in developing countries, will certainly have faced challenges on the road to this award. But their determination, commitment and enthusiasm have paid off. The award is recognition that they are excellent scientists and that their research has made an impact both regionally and internationally. They are an inspiration to all young women considering careers in science."

At the ceremony, Samira Omar Asem, VP for the OWSD Arab Region, said OWSD and TWAS see this award as "vital for encouraging women in developing countries to be more involved in science and technology and to make a more significant contribution to social and economic developments."

David Ruth, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation, said professional visibility is crucial to developing high-profile international scientific careers, especially for women. He explained that the Elsevier Foundation provides support to early-career women scholars through its New Scholars grant programs as well as mentoring, research retreats, professional visibility, childcare, work-life integration and recognition programs.

"The awards for these impressive women scientists represent a cooperative effort supported by Elsevier, OWSD, AAAS and TWAS to build research capacity and advance scientific knowledge throughout the developing world," he said, "and what better place than the annual AAAS conference to raise awareness among scientists, policymakers, journalists and the public about the need to retain and celebrate women scientists."

The 2014 winners

Central & South Asia

Dr. Nilufar Mamadalieva , Senior Scientific Researcher at the Institute of the Chemistry of Plant Substances in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, was honored for her work on the phytochemical and biological investigation of active compounds derived from medicinal plants growing in Central Asia, in particular the development of efficient nutraceuticals and the discovery of new lead compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.

The field of natural substances, a tradition at the Tashkent Institute, is gaining more interest in western countries for the development of efficient nutraceuticals and the discovery of new lead compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Mamadalieva is the recipient of a number of international fellowships, which have allowed her to travel extensively and develop a network of international collaborators.

"This award gives me confidence and confirms that I'm going for the right goal," she said.

East and South-East Asia & the Pacific

Dr. Leni Ritmaleni of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, was honored for her work in the field of organic synthesis, focusing on the development of tropical medicines, in particular improved methods for the synthesis of sulfoxides and their application in the preparation of biologically active targets.

She hopes her work will "encourage young women in Indonesia to love science, especially synthetic organic chemistry."

"Women need science, science needs women and they need to work together," she said.

Dr. Ritmaleni received her PhD from the School of Chemistry at Bristol University, UK after receiving a scholarship from the Indonesian government. She has won several awards in Indonesia and has published over 40 papers.

Dr. RItmaleni said researchers face various challenges at her institution, including a lack of access to scientific equipment and supplies and a scarcity of grants for basic science.

As a mother, she also strives to balance work and family, making "time management" an important priority.

She values the recognition provided by this award along with "the opportunity to connect with other scientists around the globe."

Latin America & the Caribbean

Dr. Simone Ann Marie Badal McCreath manages the biochemistry lab at the Natural Products Institute at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, and is designing a new cell culture lab at the same Institute. She was recognized for her work in designing a new cell culture lab to investigate the cancer-fighting properties of Jamaican natural compounds.

Her interest is in screening Jamaican plant isolates for their potential properties slow down block or prevent the carcinogenic process. "Our findings have so far identified several isolates that are more potent in reducing cancer cell viability as well as potentially safer than anti-cancer drugs now on the market," she said. "This research will pave the way for future research necessary for drug development and also the propagation and culture of novel Jamaican cancer and normal cells lines.

"Since cancer is the leading cause of death in Jamaica, such findings will prove useful in cancer treatment and prevention as well as earlier diagnosis in addition to identifying molecular targets that can improve selectivity of the isolates to cancer cells only."

Dr. Badal McCreath has received numerous awards and has published extensively.

She said the challenges she faces in her career are less gender-based and more about the long delays in getting equipment and supplies to their lab as well as a lack of funding.

"Such challenges can cost us months even years of research," she said. "Nonetheless, women in science do face challenges, and these become more apparent the higher the ladder you climb, the top of which is male dominated."

Winning this award, she said, means attracting funding for cancer research in Jamaica and "the motivation of young and older women in science and other areas ... to never give up but to persevere through gender-based and other issues that we daily face."

Arab region

Dr. Eqbal Mohammed Abdu Dauqan is Head of the Department of Medical Laboratories Sciences at Al-Saeed University in Taizz, Yemen. She was honored for her research on the antioxidant properties of vegetable oils and specialized research in sensory evaluation and organic chemistry.

She received her PhD from the National University of Malaysia. Her interests are in biochemistry and biotechnology, and she has conducted specialist research in food science, natural antioxidents and organic chemistry. She is also a dedicated teacher.

"Not all the people around us understand what natural antioxidents are," she said. She and her colleagues do workshops for the public, pointing out the antioxident properties in vitamins such as C and E and how to find them in the foods they eat.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Dr. Taiwo Olayemi Elufioye is acting head of the Department of Pharmacognosy at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She was honored for her research on the medicinal properties of native Nigerian plants, in particular the effectiveness of different species in treating malaria, wounds, memory loss, leprosy and cancer.

She said she has been able to identify a compound with good activity against a chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria parasites. Also, she and her research colleagues are creating an herb tea that that may be useful for dementia.

"My main challenge has been funding, typical for most developing world," she said. "Also been a woman can be challenging considering the fact that prevailing conditions and policies are not necessarily woman-friendly.

"It's just so great to know that despite these challenges, my contribution to science is being recognized. I feel so proud and definitely energized to do more."