Latest Milestone in Cancer Research at LAU

Dr. Mirvat El-Sibai secures the first Bryn Turner-Samuels Foundation grant outside of Europe for research.

By Luther J. Kanso

Former graduate student of Dr. Mirvat El-Sibai’s, Nour El-Mais, conducting her research at LAU’s biology lab.

LAU’s long and dedicated history of providing graduate students and faculty with fruitful opportunities to enhance, expand and diversify their education and research has just witnessed a new, promising milestone.

Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology Mirvat El-Sibai, an established cancer metastasis scientist, has secured the first grant to be provided outside of continental Europe from the Bryn Turner-Samuels Foundation for a research project into a grade IV brain tumor, glioblastoma, that she is conducting with her students. 

As the largest digital philanthropy platform in Switzerland, the Bryn Turner-Samuels Foundation assists in funding medical research with a focus on oncology. While not limited solely to this field, it also supports initiatives aimed at enhancing the quality of life for individuals undergoing oncological treatment, as well as endeavors to cultivate connections between researchers and aspiring scholars eager to advance their training, which is why Dr. El-Sibai reached out to them.

A major section of the funds will go into purchasing mechanical pieces for an inverted fluorescence microscope used in experiments on glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive type of brain cancer, among others.

“As a cell biologist, you need to observe the cells – called single-cell assays – to understand what they do, how they operate and how they are affected by particular factors,” elucidated Dr. El-Sibai. “The piece we need regulates temperatures and conditions in the microscope in order to have the cancer cells exist on it for a long period, and that will definitely help us perform the experiments we need in microscopy.”

A fervent researcher of cancer biology, the scientist is concerned by the dearth of proposals and the levels of study done on divergent types of tumors. Having spent a large part of her academic career investigating brain tumors, Dr. El-Sibai has managed to make fundamental discoveries in her field.

“Through our former students who went on to have extremely successful careers, we were able to prove that, at LAU, we provide unparalleled mentorship  and that we are well-positioned to make the best of this funding,” said Dr. El-Sibai. “We are equipped to help and train graduate students in ways of excellence.”

In a proposal submitted to the foundation on the malignancy and invasion of glioblastoma multiforme, Dr. El-Sibai highlighted three main aims of the study: investigating regulators of cancer cells, linking between autophagy – a self-preservation process existing in cells – and cancer malignancy and developing new and effective therapeutic tools for brain tumors.

The current grant will be assigned to a total of eight MS in Biology students who are divided into three separate groups; each group approaches a project through means of experimentation over the course of two to three years. “This way I ensure that the student has a significant contribution to the project by the time they graduate and that they are given the chance for authorship,” said Dr. El-Sibai.

This initiative was met with approval by the foundation – an achievement that stands as a “testament to the quality of the research as well as the quality of the graduate student research projects,” said Dean of Graduate Studies and Research (GSR) Samer Saab.

Praising her professional expertise, and particularly her ethical values and commitment to fostering a supportive and collaborative learning environment, the Board of the Foundation remarked that Dr. El-Sibai “makes sure a policy of sharing of skills is respected, where everyone learns from each other [and] benefits from the skills and the knowledge proposed by every single member of her lab, all under her close supervision.”

Dr. El-Sibai has long extended her mentorship and guidance beyond the classroom, as attested to by her development of a high-tech cell biology laboratory at LAU. The new techniques used in the lab, such as the state-of-the-art live microscopy methods, have launched the laboratory to become an authority on brain tumor studies.

“I am sure this funding will greatly benefit the graduate students under Dr. El-Sibai’s supervision and will allow them to reach higher levels of research quality and productivity,” said GSR Dean Saab.

When asked to elaborate on the anticipated implementation of the grant, Dr. El-Sibai indicated that “it’s not a matter of answering different questions.” Rather, it is to have a better methodology to test hypotheses in a definitive manner that expands the knowledge within the field, instead of being limited by technology.

In light of the current crisis, such grants, she said, are “so exigent because we are in great need of plenty of agents to carry out our research projects and maintain the labs, so it goes without a doubt that everyone is suffering, even the research itself, and any cash infusion to the university is essential.” Therefore, being funded by the Bryn Turner-Samuels Foundation is a tremendous step toward “starting relationships and opening doors with this foundation and others.”

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