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King Saud UniversityAfter traveling to Saudi Arabia early last month, Johns Hopkins University Professor Irina Burd embraces a tremendous appreciation for the Kingdom’s medical research and medical system and an even more profound respect for her good friend and colleague Dr. Samar Mohammed Al-Saggaf, Director of Medicine and Health Service Programs at the Saudi Arabian Embassy’s Culture Mission (SACM) in Washington DC.

She envisions increasingly strengthened future for Saudi-American medical alliances and emphasizes that Dr. Al-Saggaf, who earned her Ph.D. at King Saud University, will have a tremendous impact in the movement.

“The woman is amazing. She works non-stop,” Dr. Burd said from her office in the JHU Medical School’s Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology. “She helps physicians from Saudi Arabia establish ties in the United States . . . helps establish educational opportunities that they can take back to Saudi Arabia. The woman works extremely hard to bring the two countries together.”

“The Saudi Arabian Culture Mission does a phenomenal job and I believe that Dr. Samar deserves a Nobel Prize.”

That is a noteworthy praise from one with an outstanding medical background. Dr. Burd studied at two of America’s most prestigious medical institutions, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, and served a three-year Maternal Fetal Medicine Fellowship at Penn Medicine before becoming an to Johns Hopkins, a world-acclaimed university that has produced 34 Nobel Prize recipients. She founded Johns Hopkins University’s Integrated Center for Fetal Medicine.

On a journey arranged by Dr. Al-Saggaf, Dr. Burd toured hospitals in three Saudi Cities and spent a day at King Saud University, where Dr. Burd was introduced by Mrs. Maha Al-Rakan, whose family facilitated Dr. Burd’s trip to Riyadh, and welcomed by Drs. Einas Al-Eisa and Nadia Al-Ghreimill, Dean and Vice Dean of the KSU Female Center for Scientific and Medical Colleges.

“I was invited to find mutually beneficial collaborations in Saudi Arabia for research and patient care. Specifically, we are looking for partners to our Johns Hopkins Center for Fetal Medicine,” Dr. Burd said.  “Dr. Mohammed Al-Rakan is about to start his research at Johns Hopkins. We are interested in expanding medical associations with other countries, finding mutually beneficial projects with them. We are very interested in establishing [medical] alliances with Saudi Arabia”

Johns Hopkins has academic affiliations with 46 countries, including Saudi Arabia. Dr. Burd has four Saudi Arabian researchers in her center, with Dr. Mohammed Al-Rakan scheduled to arrive in March. With help of Aramco Services Company a post-doctorate fellowship was established at the center to support a talented scientist.

Dr. Burd toured the Malaz Campus’s central laboratory and was briefed by Dr. Maha Daghestani on the laboratory’s Chemistry and Electronic Microscopic units, then made stops in the genetic research, stem cell research, microbiology, tissue culture and tissue processing units and was conclude in the office of Dr. Ebstesam Al-Olayan, Vice Rector for Development at the Al-Malaz and Olaysha campuses. Dr. Al-Olayan provided an overview of the developmental programs and patents being supported by the University.

“The female section’s facilities are just superb,” she said. “They have a state-of-the-art equipment.  I just wish more physicians had the opportunity to go over there and see all the phenomenal resources they have at King Saud University and other Saudi Universities.”

Dr. Burd has modestly commented that while proud of her role in the cultural progress between the United States and Saudi Arabia, she believes there is a great deal more to accomplish and vows that she will strive to improve the situation daily. Based on what she knows about Dr. Al-Saggaf and from what she observed in Saudi Arabia, she is optimistic about the direction of cultural relations between the U.S. and Saudi.

“I firmly believe that with strong ties outside of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia could be in the frontier of research and medicine,” she said.

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