Alum, Faculty Laila Ziko Wins Innovators Under 35 MENA Award for Using Microbes to Cure Diseases

Laila Ziko
Ziko at the  Falling Walls Lab global competition in Egypt in 2018

Laila Ziko (MSc '13, PhD '19), adjunct professor of biology, is one of the winners of the Innovators Under 35 MENA award, presented by MIT Technology Review Arabia and the Dubai Future Foundation. Her research focuses on using microbes to cure diseases, bypassing antibiotic resistance and cancer chemotherapeutic resistance.

Under the supervision of biology Professor Rania Siam, Ziko screened microbes living in multiple harsh conditions, from deep Red Sea areas — up to 2,200 m below sea level — for antibacterial and anticancer effects. Their major findings are that those "gritty" microbes are enriched with genes potentially coding for new small molecules as compared to their counterparts in other areas. They also detected preliminary antibacterial and anticancer effects exhibited by those particular microbes.

Ziko's research is especially important today in that new antibiotics and new cancer chemotherapeutics are needed to address the global health issue of antibiotic resistance and cancer chemotherapy resistance. Ziko said that this new wave of looking into nature for new antibiotics and cancer chemotherapeutics is promising to save the lives of future generations from the emerging resistance.

"I am grateful to have successfully utilized our resources and contributed toward the first steps into finding antibacterial and anticancer effects from microbes inhabiting deep Red Sea areas and surviving harsh conditions," Ziko said. "It is a personal goal to have fulfilled to help humanity advance through our research."

Ziko has recently also won the national round of the DAAD-organized Falling Walls Lab global competition in Egypt, where she presented her doctoral project focusing on novel antibiotics in the Red Sea.