TRP TA Mena Abdel-Nour on Learning from others, Entrepreneurial Ventures, and New Research
By: Nida Zafar
Mena Abdel-Nour is co-creator of Choco Fiber. The product is a healthier alternative to the popular spread Nutella. It “has 10% of the calories of Nutella. It is fortified with fiber and has 20% of your daily fiber intake in about 2 spoons.”
The startup is an entrepreneurial venture and is in addition to his PhD. He is in his third-year and is studying molecular biology and immunology. The 27-year-old is also a teaching assistant for the experiential learning course MSC2021 and the capstone projects at the Translational Research Program.
Abdel-Nour takes being a TA as a learning opportunity. “A third of the students are clinicians so they teach me things every day.”
His entrepreneurial venture, Choco Fiber, is not currently in stores, but many sessions with focus groups have been conducted. “The overwhelming majority of people love it,” he said.
Abdel-Nour’s other interests include public speaking. He has given talks with SciChat, a group run by graduate students from the Department of Immunology at The University of Toronto hoping to make science accessible to the community through lectures and seminars.
Abdel-Nour has given three chats on infectious disease and immunology. One of those chats was on the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which stemmed from his background in infectious diseases and immunology.
“Everyone’s in a panic when they see a pandemic. To talk about it and teach [the public] what’s actually going on, why it happened [and] how rare it actually is, I loved doing that,” he said.
Abdel-Nour’s love for science is credited to his childhood. Growing up, he had a profound love for biology.
He was born in Cairo and his family immigrated to Canada when he was 4 months old. His family didn’t have a lot of money, which made him “passionate about outreach and community involvement.” This mixed with parents who prioritized a good education made him ardent about science.
Recently, Abdel-Nour visited Google Life Sciences in San Francisco to explore biotech research.
But while in the city, he noted a difference in healthcare between San Francisco and Toronto. A large part of the difference stems from America’s largely private health care system compared to Canada’s largely public health care system.
Since the healthcare system in the U.S. is private, a lot more money can be made, leading to larger profits and more innovation, he said. “ [The U.S.] is always trying to look for new technologies and new ways to improve the current system because that allows things to be cheaper and better.”
Abdel-Nour is currently working on a project related to multiple sclerosis, as is Google Life Sciences; one of the reasons for his visit to San Francisco. The organization is “tracking patients and trying to find ways to predict MS attacks,” he said.
Abdel-Nour was tight-lipped on his project for the disease. He is working under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Girardin, who’s in laboratory medicine and primarily researches infectious diseases and immunopathology.
“There’s been awareness about [MS] in the last few years because of the ice bucket challenge. But I don’t think the dollars are in it,” he said.
According to health information website Healthline, as of 2015, 2.5 million people have the disease worldwide.
“That’s something I’m really passionate about and something I like to work on,” Abdel-Nour said.