Few women go from Play-Doh to pathogens in the same day. Fatme Al-Anouti, a mother of two preschoolers who is working toward her PhD in Medical Biochemistry, is one of the few.
Al-Anouti left Beirut five years ago with a Master’s degree in microbiology to continue her studies in clinical chemistry at the University of Windsor. Her research objective is to find the drug target for the treatment of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection transferred to humans from cats. Those with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS, are at a high risk of being infected. If it is contracted in pregnant women, fetuses can suffer neural defects, deafness, neonatal blindness, even death.
Carbohydrate metabolism provides the energy for parasites to thrive in the human body, and this is where Al-Anouti bases her study.
“We thought if we concentrate on the carbohydrate metabolism we will find a gene that is very important for the survival of a parasite,” she says. “If you stop the action of this gene, the parasite is no longer able to survive, or it will have impaired growth.”
Al-Anouti says her work has been made easier by the understanding shown by her faculty adviser, professor Sirinart Ananvoranich.
“It’s a big difference,” working with another woman in a male-dominated field, she says. “It’s a very good thing that I chose her.”
An added bonus for Al-Anouti is Windsor’s large Arab community. Her brother-in-law resides in the city, and that helped her to choose the University of Windsor.
Balancing work and home is challenging, but she manages to succeed at both, saying, “For a woman it’s hard, but I enjoy being a mother and a researcher.” Her goals are simple: complete her doctorate and take a few months off. “I want to spend some time with my kids and then I can start the research again.”