Huge Potential of QBRI Convinced Dr. Nasser Hussein Zawia

Huge Potential of HBKU’s Qatar Biomedical Research Institute Convinced Dr. Nasser Hussein Zawia to Accept Opportunity as Research Director

19 Sep 2021

Huge Potential of HBKU’s Qatar Biomedical Research Institute Convinced Dr. Nasser Hussein Zawia to Accept Opportunity as Research Director

What was your first involvement with Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI)?

My story with QBRI goes back around 15 years - so before the institute or even Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) was even launched - as I was part of the Arab scientific forum that was held here, so I came here several times.

There were 100 or so invited scientists, Arab scientists mainly from the West. They invited accomplished scientists and I was really pleased to be involved. To find a country that was so committed to developing Arab science was very exciting.

When the name Qatar Biomedical Research Institute was decided, I was involved in groups that discussed what the focus areas and theme areas would be.

My engagement decreased when I was appointed Dean of the Graduate School, at the University of Rhode Island in 2010 because that brought a lot of heavy responsibilities. We had a huge portfolio of 3,000 students and over 100 programs. 

How does it feel to return and be part of the QBRI community?

I had continued to follow the developments of QBRI and HBKU with great interest and I was delighted to return this year as research director at QBRI. QBRI first became interested in me and later on recruited me for the position of research director, after I asked to be hosted in its labs to do a Fulbright research scholarship, which is one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world.

When I was young and aspiring to become a scientist, there was no infrastructure, no capacity like there is now, so I really welcomed this opportunity. I would like to really help regional scientists and work with international scientists on high-quality research and translational research for the region.

I have a diverse range of experience as I can manage both the science and leadership roles, not to mention the fact I worked at a highly recognized American university, so I feel I have a lot to offer QBRI but the institute has a lot to offer me.

How excited are you to be working in Qatar?

The natural place to go from being a dean was to a provost or a president’s position in the US, and I was constantly approached for such roles, but I chose to come down title-wise because I believe in the mission here and I’m passionate about it. I’m very happy with my decision to come to QBRI.

It was a very personal decision. I am from the region and I’ve admired the work being done here for many years. It’s very rare that you find a wealthy nation, especially in the Middle East, that invests this amount of resources to develop education and research. 

Most people who invest want to see returns within one to three years, but in education, it is an investment in research and innovation, you may not see the rewards until decades later.

How has QBRI’s research landscape evolved since your first visit to Qatar?

It’s huge, and I feel so blessed to have been able to see something from a concept and then come back to see it in reality.

To see that this institute has produced 120 publications in 2020 alone, that are high quality, and high impact with an h-index of close to 40, as well as 42 invention disclosures in the last three years is phenomenal. I have the advantage of being someone who was around when the baby was being born, then went away and came back to see the teenager.

The institute has already taken a big leap and now has amazing facilities and faculty, but I look forward to helping it advance to a new high.

What aspirations do you have for QBRI?

I am keen to continue my dual role of being a researcher and also an administrator, and I'd like to bring in the best practices of management and administration because I want QBRI to benefit from my experience, which is very significant.

I've been involved in translational research and drug development, and I have a clinical trial pending FDA approval in the US for neurodegenerative disease treatment.

I also formed a company and have knowledge of commercialization efforts, patents, and disclosures. I think this fits perfectly with QBRI’s role as a pioneering national research institute that is striving to transform healthcare and personal medicine through translation research.

I want to continue my drug development activities here at QBRI and I'd like to develop things that could be commercialized through HBKU and Qatar Foundation. As a research director, I can advise our aspiring scientists on how to translate their findings into products, and how to start-up companies and help them negotiate some of the challenges from my personal experience.