Posted on April 20, 2020

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) won 1st place in the 12th annual Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP), run by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF).

The project, titled “Role of the Human Gut Microbiota in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases” was led by Dr. Ghizlane Bendriss, lecturer in biology. Her research team, comprised of two other faculty mentors and six students, was awarded first prize in recognition of the important achievements and outcomes of this project. WCM-Q is a member of Qatar Foundation. Working alongside Dr. Bendriss on the project were fellow faculty members Dr. Dalia Zakaria, also a lecturer in biology in the WCM-Q premedical curriculum, and Dr. Noha Yousri, assistant professor of research in genetic medicine, plus students Dana Al-Ali, Ameena Shafiq, Nada Mhaimeed, Mohammed Salameh, Zain Burney, and Krishnadev Pillai.

In this year’s UREP contest, 14 projects were selected for the final round out of an original pool of 46 projects produced by research teams at universities across Qatar. Students from each of the 14 shortlisted teams then presented their projects and the judging panel awarded prizes to the top three. Students Dana Al-Ali and Ameena Shafiq were tasked with presenting the WCM-Q project to the panel of judges, a process which this year took place via videoconference because of the physical distancing rules in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Second place in this year’s contest was won by Texas A&M University at Qatar, and third place by Qatar University.

UREP success for WCM-Q [].jpgDana Al-Ali, a third-year medical student, said: “We have been working on this project for about three years now and for it to compete and win was very surreal. Our project was one of the first studies to look into gut microbiota in Qatar, which made its results unique and new to Qatar. Of course, this project would have not reached its full potential without the support of QNRF, our mentors, especially Dr. Ghizlane, and my fellow team members, who worked tirelessly on this project.”

Dr. Khaled Machaca, senior associate dean for research, innovation & commercialization at WCM-Q, said: “I offer my warmest congratulations to the winners for this extraordinary achievement. This achievement highlights the superb caliber of our students and faculty, and it is especially gratifying during these extraordinary times as it demonstrates their outstanding commitment to research. We are very grateful to QNRF for their continued support of the UREP program and for running this inspiring contest, which does so much to fuel the enthusiasm and ambition of young researchers at institutions all over Qatar.”

The UREP contest is designed to promote research-based education and hands-on learning, helping students gain experience of team-based research and collaboration with faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and other undergraduates or research staff in Qatar.

Dr. Ghizlane Bendriss said: “I am very proud of my team, as this project was not easy to implement, and I am grateful to all those who contributed to this success with their support and guidance, including the IRB office at WCM-Q and Dr. Marco Ameduri, senior associate dean for premedical education and Education City collaborative curricular affairs. This project-based learning was an opportunity for our future doctors to gain knowledge, practical skills and the inquisitive mindset needed to succeed in their careers. It was also an occasion to explore this novel paradigm that links the gut microbiome to many modern diseases and to raise awareness among the public of the latest discoveries by sharing the findings.”

The presentation can be viewed at