SASTA invited Dr Islam Hussein to write on his background, science communication activities, and give advice to Arab youth interested in science. He kindly accepted and wrote to SASTA the following article.
Islam Hussein, DVM, MS, PhD
Twitter handle: @virolvlog
After graduation from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Zagazig University in 1999, I joined the faculty of the Department of Virology at the same college. As an undergraduate student, I fell in love with viruses. These ingenious microbes that despite their extreme simplicity and small size, can elegantly harness the cellular machineries to serve for their replicative goals. I was convinced that this field was the best fit for my research aspirations. During my 3-year tenure at the Virology Department, I earned my master’s degree. In late 2003, I was awarded a prestigious scholarship to study for my PhD at the University of Cambridge, UK. After earning my degree in 2007, I moved to the US to complete my postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Kansas Medical Center. During my 2 postdoctoral fellowships, I studied the molecular biology of human immunodeficiency virus and hantaviruses. In 2012, I joined the Department of Biological Engineering of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a Research Scientist. My research at MIT was focused on understanding the transmissibility and pathogenicity of avian influenza viruses. In 2017, I took on a Senior Scientist at Microbiotix, a biopharmaceutical company specialized in antimicrobial drug discovery, where I currently lead a small research group focused on the discovery and clinical development of new antiviral drugs. Among several promising clinical candidates, we are developing an antiviral compound to treat the diseases caused by human cytomegalovirus and adenoviruses. This is in addition to a number of other early discovery projects aimed to identify novel inhibitors of influenza, ebola and zika and coronaviruses.
Out of a burning passion to educate the Arabic-speaking general public about viruses and as an attempt to correct any misinformation disseminated by mainstream media, my YouTube channel “Virolvlog” was officially born on 11 October 2014. The team behind this channel consisted of 2 people: my son Adham (who was 11 years old at the time when we launched the channel) and myself. Adham was interested in technology in general, and he found in this channel an outlet for his desire to gain skills in videography and learn new software. Together, we taught ourselves the basics of videography, video editing and established an amateur studio in the basement of our house. Adham made great progress on the tech-side of things, while I focused on writing the video scripts. Instead of complaining about misinformation circulated on social media, I thought it would be better use of my time if I provide an alternative source of scientifically correct information. Our viewership data indeed confirms that Virolvlog videos are reaching diverse age groups in almost all Arabic speaking countries. So far, we have more than 48K subscribers. Our videos were viewed more than 620K times, with a total watching time of almost 60K hours. We have experienced a heightened activity on our channel with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the huge infodemic that we had to curb, everybody was hungry for sound knowledge from trusted sources. To keep up with the demand for more content, I decided to launch a podcast, which I named “Virolcast”. On this new podcast, I discuss with my guests topics related to viruses in general, but the current focus is obviously on COVID-19.
In addition to the YouTube channel and the podcast, I write articles and blog posts targeting Arabic-speaking researchers and science enthusiasts that I usually publish on my personal website. Being an active science communicator opened up several opportunities for me to be a frequent guest on TV shows to comment on matters related to viruses. In 2015, I was named by Nature Middle East as one of 5 science communicators to follow in the Arab World. I was an invited speaker at TEDxCairo 2015, Harvard Arab Weekend 2015 and 2016. My work was also featured on Science magazine, ASM’s Culture magazine and American Scientist. Furthermore, I am an elected member of the Communication Committee of the American Society for Microbiology (June 2018 – to date).
My advice to young researchers is to strive to achieve their full potential and never give up. There is some magic in fighting battles beyond our capacities, the magic of betting on everything you have for the sake of a dream. And the longer your dream is delayed, the more battles you will fight, which will teach you a lot. You will fall and rise regain, and the more you fall, the more success stories that you will tell to your children and grandchildren one day, God willing! Excel in whatever branch of science you choose to pursue, and please don’t forget that the public owns a share in your data, too. At the end of the day, your research is funded by public money, so, give them something back and spread your knowledge beyond the walls of research papers.