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UA student honors his late mother with award-winning presentation and research

Published: May. 21, 2021 at 9:42 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Marwan Abduljawad just graduated from the University of Arizona with a PhD in chemical engineering.

Before Abduljawad graduated, he entered the 2021 University of Arizona Grad Slam competition, a campus-wide competition for the best three-minute graduate student presentation of their innovative research.

Abduljawad wowed the judges with his work in the Biomolecule Bioengineering Nanotechnology Laboratory, and the inspiration behind his passion.

Abduljawad said his focus is on energy conversion, but it shifted when he received a call from his sister in Saudi Arabia.

“Six years ago my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I remember my sister calling me and telling me that the doctors were going to perform an MRI to find out what was going on in my mom’s body,” Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad began to research contrast agents, specifically gadolinium, a metal injected into a patient’s veins befroe an MRI to help areas of interest, like a tumor, show up brightly in a scan.

Abduljawad learned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had issued warnings about the risk of gadolinium staying in a patient’s body for months, even years.

“Which is toxic and dangerous especially for those with kidney failure, " Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad began working to find an alternative, safe and effective contrast agent.

“I knew I could make a difference. I could help my mom and millions of cancer patients worldwide so they could receive a better diagnostic,” Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad attached antibodies to gold-magnetic nanoparticles, which he said can locate a tumor inside the body and then be dishcarged quickly.

“If we inject these particles through the veins, guide them with an extender magnet, they are going to stick strongly to the tumor and the tumor is going to light up like a Christmas tree,” Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad entered his presentation and dedicated this presentation to his mother.

“I wanted to tell the world how important my work is,” Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad won first place. Two days later, his mother lost her battle cancer.

“The last couple days of her life were really difficult,” Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad said the award and his degree are just the beginning of a lifelong journey to create a better world for future generations.

“I want to cure cancer,” Abduljawad said.

Abduljawad said the University of Arizona will now put his contrast agent to the test.

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