A Global Citizen
Sitting Down With Malak Abedalthagafi, Assistant Research Professor of Genomics and Neuropathology at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, Medical Director of Molecular Diagnostics at King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Saudi Arabia, and part-time faculty member at Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA
What inspired your journey into pathology?
When I was very young, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic disease that required frequent trips for treatment. I lived in London for a year, then went back and forth between Makkah and Riyadh for follow-up treatment. Those visits to a specialist in Saudi Arabia, as a young girl in the late 1980s, gave me my first glimpse of the possibility of becoming a physician-scientist. That specialist, Nadia Sakati, became my first role model. I later learned that she had established one of the first genetics departments in Saudi Arabia.
Initially, I intended to concentrate on studying genetic diseases in children – but as I studied, I moved toward molecular pathology and then became more focused on surgical oncology, molecular genetics, and neuropathology. Now, my goal is to improve personalized medicine in the clinical management of cancer patients.
I am extremely pleased that I made the decision to become one of only a few board-certified molecular neuropathologists in the world. To reach that goal, I was fortunate to have a mentor who spoke candidly about – and helped me to overcome – the obstacles women still face in science and medical careers. I also obtained an MBA degree, which serves me well in directing research and clinical labs. My background is somewhat unique, but it has helped me to carve out an equally unique niche. I find it very rewarding to not only diagnose cases in the classical way, but also guide oncologists toward new targeted therapy approaches that save lives.
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