Dr Rumaitha Al Hosni - Extraordinary Junior Research Fellow in Physiology
This week we had the pleasure of getting to know Dr Rumaitha Al Hosni, Extraordinary Junior Research Fellow in Physiology at Queen's College Oxford. Rumaitha spent the first 15 years of her life in the coastal city of Dar es salaam in Tanzania, followed by a few years in Oman, before moving to the UK in 2011 to pursue higher education. In this interview we ask her about her experiences of London, Oxford, Dar Es Salaam, and Muscat, while also finding out more about her incredible work in ion channel physiology and pharmacology.
AOS: What first sparked your interest in biomedical sciences? Is this what you always wanted to do?
RH: My appreciation for the sciences in general, stemmed from my struggles with it in high school. I think having to put in the extra effort, over time, transformed into a passion of mine. I was most intrigued with the human body and how diseases manifest when the general balance is perturbed, and so, biomedical sciences seemed like the best fit. A biomedical sciences degree allows you to appreciate the extensive networks in our body to a molecular level and how drugs are then developed to target certain aspects of it.
AOS: What have you enjoyed most about your studies?
RH: I have enjoyed learning and appreciating the complexities within the human body and meeting inspiring people along the way. There are so many intricacies that we are unaware of in our daily lives yet play profound roles in our ability to function normally. During my BSc I spent a lot of the time learning the theory- that extended into my MSc in Biomedical sciences as well. However, towards the end of that academic year, I spent a substantial period in a lab environment. This is where I truly appreciated all the theory I had learnt over the years and realised; this is what I want to be doing.
AOS: Now that you've been living in the UK for ten years, can you imagine yourself moving back to Oman or Tanzania or do you feel settled here?
RH: I must admit, I am very well settled here, but I always told myself, as soon as I was done with my PhD, I would be on the next flight to Oman. But when opportunities present themselves that you wouldn’t have imagined, it’s hard to let them pass you by. Having said that, I am quite open to heading back to Oman should opportunities arise. I am aware the research environment is growing every day, so I know I will always have a lot to gain if I do decide to go back.
AOS: Is there anything you miss about life in Muscat and Dar es Salaam?
RH: First and foremost, I miss being able to see my parents often and having a home cooked meal, in particular barbeques. I think about food a lot! Oman and Tanzania, as you can imagine, have such diverse and multicultural dishes. One other thing I miss, is the beach and being out in nature at all times of the year. I think it’s something I always took for granted.
AOS: How are you finding life in Oxford so far? Is it nice to be outside of London after six years or do you miss the bustle of the capital?
RH: I am quite enjoying it. It was very strange at first, living away from my twin for the first time in my life, but I found a way to adapt (with several video calls a day). I moved here last year during a lockdown, and so I didn’t get to explore it as much, but now that restrictions have eased, I have been cycling my way around the city and exploring different parts of it every weekend. There is so much to see, it’s incredible. It is hard to believe I had never been here before. I love that as a large city (relative those outside of London), you can still find some peace and quiet. You have nature all around you and cycling isn’t a terrifying thought. I don’t miss the bustle of London at all, I must admit. London is a beautiful place with so much to offer, but the commutes after a long day at university were the worst of it, I think. I am more than happy to visit every fortnight, but for now, I will appreciate the calm in Oxford. It has forced me to slow down, and I am able wind down a lot easier at the end of the day.
AOS: What are you enjoying most about your new position at Queen's college?
RH: I love the opportunities to converse with people in different disciplines with astonishing minds, from linguists to historians and other scientists as well. Working within a department all day, doesn’t offer the chances to meet other people as much. Ever since I joined Queen’s college, I have met people who can easily be considered extended family. Their generosity is unparalleled. I am also looking forward to teaching in College from November, which is exciting. On a not-so-serious note, dinner at the high table has been incredible!
AOS: Can you explain your current research in ion channel physiology and pharmacology?
RH: My current research is focused on a novel group of chloride ion channels known as TMEM16A. Ion channels are proteins that form pores on biological membranes. They allow specific small molecules to pass through creating an electric current that regulates bodily functions. Unlike other channels, TMEM16A is highly sensitive to its lipid environment, including signalling lipids. Furthermore, their ubiquitous expression in the vasculature poses severe implications for vascular disease (including Niemann-Pick Disease, type C1-disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s). Thus, my research aims to elucidate the extent of lipid sensitivity of this channel by lipids and exploit this knowledge to develop lipid-like small molecules with therapeutic potential.
AOS: What are your plans for the future? Are there certain things you would like to achieve or continue studying?
RH: That is a difficult question to answer, for me. Stemming from the fact that I never really knew what It was I wanted to do exactly after every stage in my academic career, simply because I always underestimated my potential. A big question for me is whether I want to stay in academia or move into industry at some point. As for now, academia seems to be the right fit. Having said that, that would be mean looking into teaching and research fellowships in the future to progress up the academic ladder, so to speak. It does have its challenges, and admittedly is not the easiest route to be in, but my passion for research and being able to share that with the next generation of scientists is my driving force now.
AOS: Do you think you would be interested in ever going to Oman to work there?
RH: I am open to the idea. I am so appreciative of the opportunities I have had over the years here in the UK; I want to be able to translate and share that with the Omani community. I think for now, I want to gain as much experience as I can in all areas of academia, to allow me to have some credibility and comfort in transferring over my skills and knowledge to the science community in Oman.
Special thanks to Rumaitha for answering all our questions, it is so exciting to speak to a young academic who is conducting such vital research. We cannot wait to see what she will do next, Dr Rumaitha Al Hosni is a young Omani to keep your eye on as she moves from strength to strength in her academic career and scientific prowess.
Queen's College, Oxford University