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UC Science PhD alumna honoured for work in Iraq

19 December 2019

An Iraqi woman with a PhD from the University of Canterbury (UC) is being recognised as a trailblazing graduate for her work in disease prevention and biosecurity in her home country.


Dr Wafaa Al-Hussainni has been inducted into the University of Canterbury (UC) School of Biological Sciences’ Inspirational Alumni ‘Hall of Fame’.

Dr Wafaa Al-Hussainni moved from Iraq to New Zealand in 2013 to begin a PhD in Biochemistry at UC. She graduated in 2018 and returned to Iraq to continue her career.

Today she will receive the UC School of Biological Sciences Inspirational Alumni award in recognition of her outstanding professional achievements and impact on society.

“This is amazing, UC keeps making my dreams come true. I am thrilled, overwhelmed and extremely happy,” Dr Al-Hussainni says.

“Honestly, my years at UC were the best. I learned from the best scientists how to become one. I learned how to be a full-time working mum yet still smile even at the hardest times. My family and I are grateful to have had this great opportunity to live and study in New Zealand, and particularly in our beloved Christchurch.”

An induction ceremony for this alumni “Hall of Fame” was held at UC today and Dr Al-Hussainni’s biography and photo will be displayed in the School of Biological Sciences Edgar Stead Atrium.

School of Biological Sciences Head of School Professor Matthew Turnbull says she was an outstanding candidate for the award.

“Wafaa had a science degree from the University of Baghdad and had worked as a biochemist at a kidney transplant unit.

“After her PhD at UC, she moved on to hold a number of positions of service and leadership in Iraq, including a two-year role as Director of Central Public Health Laboratories where she had to be ready to respond to any disease crisis within the country and worked in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and other NGOs,” he says.

“She then moved to the National Center for Training and Development where she has started new programmes in biosafety and biosecurity.”

Professor Turnbull says that while Dr Al-Hussainni was studying at UC she was highly respected within the school and supported inclusive activities such as the Biological Sciences International Food Festival. She was also active in the community, regularly supporting homeless people through the Who is Hussain? organisation.

Her PhD research topic focused on disrupting receptors involved in ovarian cancer cell growth and her findings were published in the prestigious journal Cancer Letters.

Dr Al-Hussainni is currently a Health Security Partners Fellow and has recently taken up a lectureship position at the College of Medicine, Ibn Sina University.

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