INTERVIEW WITH Dr. ONS MAMAI
Q. First of all, congratulations on your selection for having been selected as the 2017 honoree of the Ibn Khaldun Award©.
A. I feel privileged by getting this recognition. Many thanks for contacting me.
Q. Many of the readers of the last issue of our newsletter expressed their interest in knowing more about Ons Mamai, the scientist as well as the citizen and the person. Let’s start from the beginning: In which part of Tunisia were you raised?
A. I was born in Sousse. Both my parents are Sousse natives, also. I was brought up in a modest family with two brothers and one sister (I’m the oldest), in the family home with my grandmother at the Medina. I went to the primary and secondary schools in the same city.
Q. Tell us about your educational background?
A.I got my secondary school education at the Lycée secondaire de Garçons de Sousse from which I received my Baccalaureat (Section: Experimental Sciences; main session). My first four years (2001-2005) at the University were at the Higher Institute of Biotechnology in Monastir, Tunisia where I obtained a bachelor degree in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences.
As for my post-graduate education: in 2007, I received a Masters Degree, Human Genome Research (Monastir). In 2015, I received my PhD in Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, with High Honors and the selection board commendation (the equivalent of “Magna Cum Laude” in the USA).
Q. What got you interested in the medical field?
A. My main interest was in human genetics and inherited disorders. I was fascinated mostly with gene identification pathway explanation. For this reason, I was looking for a PhD project in a Teaching Hospital to get a project in human genetics.
Q. Tell us about your post-education career in Tunisia
A. As I mentioned before, I earned a PhD in Biological Sciences and Biotechnology from the Higher Institute Of Biotechnology at the Monastir University, administered by Professor Ali Saad, Director of the research Laboratory on Human Cytogenetics, Molecular Genetics, and Reproductive Biology at the Farhat Hached University Teaching Hospital in Sousse. The Thesis: Identification of genes involved in two rare dermatological diseases: Familial multiple keratoacanthoma and palmoplantar keratoderma of Buschke and Fischer-Brauer.
Q. Could you elaborate, please.
A. The research is related to human genetics and molecular biology application. My PhD. project was dedicated to identifying the causative genes of two rare genodermatosis (a genetically determined, congenital skin disease). The first part was about Lod Score calculation and linkage analysis, and two papers were published, one reporting the results and the second was for the gene identification and the effect of the mutation in skin physio-pathology. We also published an article about the AAGAB gene (published in Nature Genetics) causing the type I palmoplantar keratoderma (thickening of the skin of the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands). A third paper was published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, about a newly inherited skin cancer (MSPC, OMIM#616964) described for the first time. With the valuable collaboration with Dr. Bruno Reversade, we published a Cell Paper about the causative gene (NLRP1) of this pathology and the new theory about the innate immune system implication in the cancer initiation and regression. I have also collaborated with several teams working on human genetics, especially for gene identification of rare genodermatosis (under publishing).
Q. How did you get involved with the Singapore-based research team?
A. In 2010 that team published a paper about an identical pathology of the skin disorder of which I was trying to elucidate the genetic cause. They had discovered the gene, so I contacted them to ask about some details, and I explained to them that I have a negative result for the disease with their described genetic locus. They were intrigued about this result, so we shared our findings and the clinical features of our patients, and they suggested that I should come to their institution and study this new phenotype. They offered me a 2-year scholarship and a research assistant position in the human genetics lab in the Institute of Medical Biology with Dr. Reversade.
Q. What exactly did your work involve, within that team?
A. During that 2 years collaboration, we had identified two genes causing rare skin disorders: the first was in 2012, the AAGAB gene causing Type-I Palmoplantar Keratoderma and the second was the NLRP1 which is our current discovery and a new skin disorder that we are currently working on publishing.
Q. Describe for us the type of research that you are conducting at the University of California in San Francisco.
A. My new project is still in the human genetics of rare diseases. We are working on a modifier gene of the Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia or HHT ( a genetic disorder that leads to abnormal blood vessel formation in the skin and mucous membranes), to explain the role of this in human development and especially in angiogenesis. I have also a new part that links my discovery of the new skin cancer to a functional study of therapeutic strategy.
Q. How did you end up in the United States, anyway?
A. Attending an American University was always a dream of mine and I considered the USA to be a better destination for a scientific career. I’m glad to start a new scientific adventure in a prestigious university as UCSF, as I have many ambitions to build a great career by working with all these distinguished scientists. Much more than just ambition, I can say that I was looking for a new experience and a much larger experience in Science.
As I was looking for a post-doc, with a specific experience in Human Genetics, I applied for this position via research gate, I was accepted the same day!
Q. The Editorial Board of the Community Gazette had learned that you are no longer active within the “ATDocs” organization. Are you currently involved with any other Civil Society entity(s)?
A. Yes, actually I’m active with the Young Tunisian researchers in biology YTRB (http://tnbio.weebly.com/about-ytrb.html). This group is looking to extend the collaboration network of Tunisian scientific teams with those in other countries by planning a knowledge exchange between teams of young researchers.
Q. Is your organization planning any activities in the near future? (what, where, when)
A. Yes, we are actually planning the second International Symposium of Young Researchers in Biology (http://tnbio.weebly.com/program.html) on May 2018. The first event (May 2016) was a great success with the participation of 200 Tunisians and international research scientists from different nationalities (French, Italian, Spanish, Brazilian, Singaporean and German).
Q. You have been in the US less than a year; how easy was it for you to feel “at home” in San Francisco? Did members of the Tunisian-American community play any role in making you feel at home in America?
A. My first year was comfortable and an easy start, mostly because I’m a very open and tolerant person and can integrate and adapt myself within any new team and within a new society. Several individuals from the Tunisian American Center (NDLR: namely Dr Ali Guermazi, Ibn Khaldun Honoree-2016) were very welcoming and really helpful, introducing me to several good contacts in the San Francisco Bay area.
Q. Would you like to announce the core message of your Ibn Khaldun Award acceptance speech? Or do we have to wait until May 13th?
A. It will be an opportunity for me to express my gratitude to the organization and to members of the community and ask all of us to live by Ibn Khaldun’s spirit of kinship and solidarity. I would also remind us that “Tunisia will either find a way or make one”, to paraphrase our illustrious Carthaginian General, Hannibal Barca.
Q. Finally, for many students in Tunisia, as well as in the United States, who are looking up to you as a role model, what three pieces of advice would you like to give them?
A. 1) I have to advise all the young Tunisian, and especially students, to set a goal for themselves and to make it one as beautiful as can be. 2) To believe in themselves, because when “we want we can”. 3) That every success starts with a good strategy and a strong ambition.
[February 23, 2017]
THE WORLD BANK NEWS RELEASE
University Presidents Launch Network to Support Higher Education Reform in the Arab World
Widespread embrace of World Bank-designed tool for evaluating institutional performance
RABAT, December 11, 2012 – More than 100 university presidents from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) gathered to develop a common strategy for higher education reform and the use of the University Governance Screening Card (UGSC), a tool for measuring the quality of university management. The meeting agreed to launch a Network for Higher Education linking experts from participating countries and international practitioners to support ongoing research for the regular updating and refining of benchmarking tools and the promotion of knowledge sharing.
“The size of this meeting was a clear sign of the regional commitment to change,” said Adriana Jaramillo, World Bank Education Specialist and leader of the team that developed the screening card. “There is a shared goal of creating universities that will equip young people with the skills they need to prosper, and the screening card and proposed network will help them achieve it. “
The regional workshop, Lessons Learned from Benchmarking University Governance in MENA, was hosted jointly by the British Council, the Islamic Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration (CMI), and the World Bank. It was organized to evaluate results from over 100 universities that had participated in the screening card process. University presidents from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and the Palestinian Territories, were joined by a range of senior government officials, representatives of quality assurance agencies, students and members of both US and European international and donor organizations.
“The British Council works with universities across the region; many of which have asked for support around governance issues. Governance is critical as good governance leads to better university outputs and as a result, a better educated and skilled workforce. The British Council is pleased to be in partnership with World Bank and ISESCO around this initiative which we believe will in the longer term, impact meaningfully on the quality of higher education in the MENA region,” said Sally Ward, Regional Manager of Higher Education in the British Council.
There was broad consensus on the impact of university governance on the quality of education, and that the UGSC had proven to be an invaluable analytical tool for identifying strengths and weaknesses. It had proved especially useful in helping universities compare themselves with international standards, define their own unique set of goals and establish benchmarks to assess the progress in achieving them. The demand for the USGC, from inside and outside the region, has been growing steadily as a result of the positive results from those institutions which first adopted it.
“The network will be an invaluable resource for universities,” said Martin Rose, British Council Country Director for Morocco. “Their efforts to become more effective and responsive institutions will be supported by a vast interconnected system of people, expertise and ideas.”
In the two years since its launch, the use of the UGSC has expanded quickly, driven by demand from many regional universities. What began in 2010 as 41 universities in four countries has now grown to more than 100 universities in seven countries. The tool not only responds to the need in systems of higher education for methods of evaluating performance, but also to the regional imperative for more transparent institutions and better services, a key demand of many of the current regional political transitions.
The evolution of the UGSC into a network represents a positive step in the region toward the universal adoption of a set of best practices which will lay the foundation for healthier institutions and improved educational options for young people, said Jaramillo.
In Washington: Lara Saade, (202) 473-9887, firstname.lastname@example.org;
In Rabat, Sally Ward, Regional Manager for Higher Education at the British Council, +971 506459371, email@example.com
For more information, please visit: http://www.cmimarseille.org/highereducation