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Knowledge winners

Biology students rank high in international medical case competition

Student Life

By Kelly Foss

A team of Memorial students made an impressive showing at a recent international medical case competition.

IgNITE is one of the most diverse and prestigious research competitions in North America, hosting students from across the world.

Ali Tawfiq Salman, Sarah Ahmed Duraid, Basel Mohamed and Abedalaziz Mohammad Altawabini are all second-year biology undergraduate students in the Faculty of Science who hope to one day enter the medical field.

They made it to the third round of the competition and came fifth out of more than 250 participating teams.

Round one

Each of the teams were given a mentor to work with.

In the first round, which took place in late 2021, competitors were asked to identify a problem or health-related issue within a particular field of interest and develop a research proposal that offers a solution and investigates the efficacy of that solution using biomolecular techniques.

“We started with the idea of treating HIV using genetic pathways,” said Mr. Salman. “We then had to write a scientific abstract outlining our research and make a one-and-a-half-minute elevator pitch video promoting it. We submitted both to the competition and were one of 40 teams picked to go on to the next step.”

Round two

Round two saw the teams develop and submit poster presentations of their proposals that they would deliver live during the IgNITE competition day on March 26.

“The day of the presentation was thrilling,” said Mr. Mohamed. “We knew we were competing with 39 other teams, so we had to be in our best form, but doing it with friends made it less stressful.”

Top five

Sarah Duraid leans against a building with graffiti on it.
Sarah Ahmed Duraid
Photo: Submitted

The top five teams then presented to a smaller panel of industry-leading professionals.

The team met researchers, professors and other industry professionals from across Canada and the U.S., virtually.

“They asked questions and provided a lot of feedback,” said Ms. Duraid. “They said our research was very thorough and that it was an interesting idea. They could tell we were ready for any problems they might ask us about and had solutions prepared ahead of time.”

The right approach

The team gives credit for their success to a mentor that IgNITE assigned to them, as well as Dr. Sherri Christian, a professor of biochemistry in the Faculty of Science, and Dr. Ken Hirasawa, a professor of BioMedical Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine.

“We met with our mentor regularly to tell him about our ideas and discuss whether or not we had the right approach,” said Mr. Mohamed. “He really set us up for success.”

Basel Mohammad stands in front of grass and trees.
Basel Mohammad
Photo: Submitted

“We also approached Dr. Christian and Dr. Hirasawa for their advice and recommendations and they gave us information which we were actually asked about during the competition,” added Mr. Salman. “So, we knew how to answer those questions. It really benefitted us and we give a big thanks to them.”

A leap of faith

The group says the competition gave them the opportunity to learn many new things, including how to make a video and graphics, presentation skills and time management and teamwork skills, as well as how to do research.

“I think any research paper I do in the future will be much easier, because of this experience and the pressure of doing it in a competition,” said Mr. Altawabini.

Abedalaziz Mohammad Altawabini is pictured from the shoulders up, in front of a blank wall.
Abedalaziz Mohammad Altawabini
Photo: Submitted

“It may be cliché, but it also it taught me to take a leap of faith,” said Ms. Duraid. “When Ali proposed the idea, I thought I was going to be too busy. I was starting my first in-person classes and didn’t want to have to worry about this, as well. But now I know if I put my best foot forward, I’m going to get somewhere.”

While only the top three teams were awarded prizes, the students say the experience truly made them victorious.

“At the end of the day, we are winning knowledge, not just a title,” said Mr. Altawabini.

That doesn’t mean they don’t have plans to reach a little higher in the future.

“I’m hoping we can compete again,” said Mr. Salman. “This time it was top five. Next time, number one!”

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