American University of Beirut

A win for science, for hope, and for Lebanon

Susanne Lane, commu​

Despite the challenges, Lebanon remains an engine of individual ingenuity and entrepreneurship as AUB engineering alumnus Waddah Malaeb (BE ’16, ME ’18) reminded us all recently. Malaeb won Stars of Science 2020, a rigorous competition that the Qatar Foundation organizes to “inspire an entire Arab generation to innovate and create.” His winning invention was the Ductal Organoid-on-a-Chip or DLOC. 

The DLOC, Malaeb explains, “is a small plastic chip in which you can grow cells that stick to the tiny surfaces inside the chip to create 3D organoids. These micro-organs closely resemble the organs in the human body which means that you can test medicines on this chip and it will give an effect very similar to what you would get if you tested the medicines on a human body.” 

Malaeb says that his passion for bioengineering dates back to a tissue engineering course he took as a technical elective during his final year at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture in 2015. “It happened purely by chance. I had just completed an internship in an oil and gas company and was planning to take all the technical electives related to oil and gas so I could work in that field in the future, but it so happened that none of the electives were available that term, so I took courses randomly.” One of the courses he took was tissue engineering – not knowing much about the topic at all. “That’s when it started,” he remembers. “I didn’t sleep for four days after that course.” What kept Malaeb awake was thinking about the tools he had as a mechanical engineer and how he could use those tools “to engineer living materials and engineer better lives.” The tissue engineering bioreactor that he developed for his final-year project took first prize at the 2017 Darwazah Student Innovation Contest. “I didn’t stick with that project for very long,” remembers Malaeb, “but the experience and knowledge I gained during that competition changed my life.” 

Malaeb says that the idea for the DLOC came to him while working on a breast cancer research project at AUB, where he saw many limitations from an engineering perspective to the current cell-culture platforms that were being used. He then developed the design and prototype for the DLOC, which later became his master’s thesis project. He entered the Darwazah contest a second time in 2018, this time winning second prize. Looking back, Malaeb says that the Darwazah contest was a great experience, that “taught me to engineer solutions that could fit the market need rather than the optimal lab-scale design.” He benefited also from the Venture Acceleration Practicum, a graduate-level experiential hands-on entrepreneurship course that he took at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business. 

During the Stars of Science competition that culminated with his first prize win on November 7, Malaeb convinced a jury of experts not only that the DLOC would work as he said it would, but that it could be successfully produced, branded, packaged, and sold. Malaeb was prepared. “When the judges asked me about next steps, I was ready,” says Malaeb. “I have a clear business model and a vision that will allow me to make from DLOC a product that will save lives.” 

“Waddah is a shining example of the innovators that come out of AUB, and who give us hope for a brighter future for Lebanon and the region,” commented MSFEA Dean Alan Shih​adeh. “I salute him and his mentors at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture on this milestone, and look forward to trying out DLOC in my own lab!”

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