Dr. Lama Alabdulaaly Combines Art and Science in Dual Postdoctoral Programs

July 12, 2021
Lama Alabdulaaly, DMSc21, on the HMS Quad

Advanced Graduate Education (AGE) student Lama Alabdulaaly, DMSc21, recently completed her advanced degree program in Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, graduating from Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) this past spring . Now she will continue her educational journey at HSDM by pursuing a certificate in Oral Medicine. While earning her Doctor of Medical Science degree at HSDM, Alabdulaaly taught pre-doctoral courses and published a number of papers in the fields of Oral Pathology, Oral Medicine, and Bone Biology. A native of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Alabdulaaly enjoys graphic design, running, skiing, and other outdoor activities in her spare time.

Why did you pursue dentistry as a career?
Since I was a child, I enjoyed assembling things and working with my hands. When I grew up, I noticed that I enjoyed critical thinking too, as opposed to performing merely technical tasks. After exploring many options, I realized that dentistry is the one specialty that combines critical thinking and manual skills. The past 12 years that I spent studying and teaching dentistry, and specializing in oral pathology, proved to me that dentistry is an art as much as it is a science.

Tell us about some of the research you have been working on.
My thesis focuses on the role of the parathyroid hormone signaling pathway in bone marrow adipose lineage. The research involves studying genetically engineered mice and employing advanced lineage tracing techniques. Although the focus of this project does not have immediate clinical applications, it greatly improves our understanding of the mechanisms by which the parathyroid hormone regulates skeletal homeostasis. The most interesting aspect of doing basic science research is that the research model is available more or less around the clock, and the floor is open for creativity in a regulated manner. Basic science research is highly intellectual, and this is why I enjoyed every step in my thesis project. As part of the Oral Pathology residency, I worked on many research projects. The majority of these projects focus on leukoplakia, an oral potentially malignant disorder. We focused on describing the histopathologic features of non-dysplastic leukoplakias, which enable pathologists and clinicians to recognize lesions with increased malignant transformation potential at an earlier time.

Lama Alabdulaaly, DMSc21, in graduation regalia posing on the HSDM front stepsWhat has been your greatest challenge since arriving at HSDM?
I faced many challenges during my journey at HSDM. I would say that the single most challenging aspect was constantly being outside of my comfort zone, both at the professional and personal levels. The greatest lessons that I learned from HSDM stemmed from the greatest challenges that I faced. Once I had peace with these challenges, I learned to be a resilient and a persevering person.

What have you learned from other students?
I am fortunate to have met many students in different AGE programs as well as pre-doctoral students. I learned perseverance and patience from my colleagues in the Oral Pathology and Oral Medicine programs. I learned kindness, tolerance, and passion from the pre-doctoral students at HSDM.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am generally a transparent person, but I noticed that many of my HSDM colleagues are surprised when they know that I am a graphic designer. I started learning graphic design when I was 15 years old, and worked as a freelancer in high school and in dental school. I somewhat stopped designing when I started my residency, and this is probably why my colleagues did not know this about me. I now realize that I am a visual person, given my enrollment in the Oral Pathology program and how much I enjoy graphic design.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
My immediate and first answer would be eating. I also enjoy cooking and find peace in making delicious food. I have a cooking blog on Instagram where I post videos of my recipes. During the winter, skiing is pretty much all I do when I’m not studying, eating, or sleeping. On non-skiing seasons, I enjoy other physical activities such as rock climbing and outdoor running.

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