Meeting with Taha Merghoub, brilliant Algerian researcher in the USA

From Ghardaïa to renowned laboratories in the United States, via the University of Bab Ezzouar in Algiers, Professor Taha Merghoub has traced a path strewn with accomplishments in the field of medical research.

The Professor of Research in Immunology has a brilliant track record, the result of many efforts. He has just been appointed Deputy Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center in the United States.

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He does not forget his country and keeps a very strong link with Algeria. Taha Merghoub tells us about his exceptional journey. Portrait.

Ghardaïa, where it all started for Taha Merghoub…

A child of Béni Izguen, a village in the wilaya of Ghardaïa, Taha Merghoub grew up in the capital of the M’zab valley. He did his schooling in the Algerian public school, at the end of which he will get his Baccalaureate in Sciences in 1987 at the end of his three years at the Lycée Moufdi Zakaria.

Then, he goes to Algiers to integrate the USTHB. There, he will get his secondary school diploma (DES) in genetics. Taha Merghoub, whose father was a doctor, grew up wanting to do science.

“My father was a doctor. I wanted to stay in the area. My choice fell on science because I saw my father working constantly in medicine. It was naive, research is even worse…”he says.

Indeed, very quickly, the future researcher will realize the extent of his ambitions and this from his DES project at the University of Bab Ezzouar. The professor then focused on carrying out an epidemiological survey in Ghardaïa.

The first steps in research

Taha Merghoub’s first steps in research were made with this study, by discovering a variant of hemoglobin D-Ouled Rabah. This ” surprise will also give rise to a publication in the European Journal of Human Genetics, when he travels to France to continue his studies.

Taha Merghoub is doing his master’s degree in applied biology and genetics at the University of Paris 7, where he is interested in hepatic differentiation. He obtained his doctorate in human genetics.

During his doctoral thesis, Taha Merghoub focuses on gene therapy without changing genes. His approach, mainly targeting people with sickle cell disease, consists of turning off the adult gene and expressing the gene that you have when you are a child.

A post-doctorate at the “Mecca of Science”

Interested and intrigued by American laboratories, Taha Merghoub travels to the United States, where he will work in the continuation of the orientation of his thesis.

Time passes and the Professor finds an interest in a laboratory specializing in cancer. This field, which is still new to him, allows him to work and train on cancers and to develop a vision of Research different from what he has known up to now.

During his first five years at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Taha Merghoub broke away from the French model to adopt the American approach, more focused on concrete and immediate results.

In the 2000s, Taha Merghoub collaborated in a laboratory that worked on melanoma (skin cancer) despite the various opportunities available to him in other fields, such as the genome. He then focused on the interaction between the immune system and tumours.

“Even though the scientific community considered it an intellectual exercise and not necessarily something that would lead to therapy, I went to something that interested me”explains Professor Taha Merghoub.

Over the years, what was only an academic concept will gradually become a real therapy, for which the clinical trials of one of the immunotherapies will be approved in 2011, marking the beginning of the explosion in this field.

This stage, which Professor Taha Merghoub describes as “decisive turn” for research in this area, gave rise to approval of other therapies and protocols, and served as the basis for concrete scientific advances that people know and embrace today.

On his way, Professor Merghoub combines his previous specialty with his new field by proposing a correlation between genetics and immunotherapy.

In the process, the laboratory developed and other collaborators joined the adventure. This progress was also punctuated by a key stage in the career of Taha Merghoub, who rose from the rank of assistant professor to that of Full Professor, the highest attainable academic rank.

At the end of his post-doctorate in New York, Taha Merghoub confides that he wanted to return to Algeria if it were not for the unstable socio-political context of the black decade which did not allow him to do of scientific research a priority which would have brought together all the necessary elements to continue to carry out the work already carried out until then.

A new adventure begins for Taha Merghoub

A new era dawned on Professor Merghoub when, a year ago, several renowned institutions became interested in him, including Weill Cornell University. The Medical Center, located in Manhattan, is part of the Ivy League universities group, which includes the most highly rated universities in the United States.

Thus, he received the honorary title of “track Professor in pharmacology” and was appointed deputy director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer cancer center, where he has participated, since September 15, in the management of the center and in the application of his vision of translational research.

One of the attractions of this center, explains Professor Merghoub, is the public it targets. Indeed, the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center aims not only to apply the best treatments and to break the code of this deadly disease, but also to make them accessible to the general public. “One of the aims of this organization is to help minorities. And I like that”he confides.

Algeria: real-time scientific collaboration

When he talks about Algeria, his native country, Professor Merghoub speaks of a desire to share with Algerians his knowledge and that of the great names in science. For this, he undertook various actions to bring his acquaintances to Algeria.

“When you go on a trip, when you come back, you bring back memories to your loved ones. I am on a great journey, and I share my memories throughout this great journey, at each stopover, at each opportunity that arises, as soon as I can.he explains.

In partnership with the Algerian American Foundation (AAF-CEST), of which he is a member, Taha Merghoub set up what will be called the ” AAF Summer University » (The AAF Summer School).

Its goal is to lead seminars periodically and in real time in Algeria, in order to introduce Algerians to technologies and to share the latest scientific advances in the world.

The first edition of the AAF Summer University was held in the summer of 2018 and was organized in partnership with the USTHB in Bab Ezzouar. For a week, thirty teachers from different parts of the country and from all over the world gave lectures to more than 300 students. The courses encompassed three areas: smart grids, biology, biotechnology and health, civil engineering and architecture.

In 2019, the event was organized in its second edition in Batna in partnership with the University Batna 2 Mostefa Benboulaïd, with the addition of renewable energies and artificial intelligence. Then, AAF Summer University had to adapt to the global Covid-19 pandemic for the next two years while continuing to grow with the addition of cybersecurity.

This year, a fifth specialty was added to the program: mechanical engineering. The AAF Summer University welcomed 600 participants, selected by application, between the first session which took place on August 26, 27 and 28 and the second on September 9, 10 and 11.

Before the summer school, Taha Merghoub created a medical foundation in Ghardaïa in 1998. This foundation was called “Talwit Center of Dr. Salah Merghoub”, in memory of his late father, and aims to bring closer and facilitate access to medical care for people who cannot afford it.

“We have tried to facilitate access to medical care, especially for women, while raising their awareness of the various diseases that affect them, such as breast and cervical cancer. We started with conferences, then we brought in doctors.”explains Professor Merghoub.

Regarding his projects in Algeria, Professor Merghoub hopes to contribute to the establishment of centers of excellence in the field of treatment development and research.

“There is enormous human potential in Algeria”

Professor Taha Merghoub takes an optimistic and hopeful look at the progress of the scientific field in Algeria. It evokes an enormous human potential and insists on the importance of investing in human resources and in research.

“We must invest in human resources and make projects that correspond to the Algerian reality in terms of available resources and needs”, he argues.

Another point he stresses is the importance of targeting promising areas for Algeria and not of completely copying what is being done in other countries. For Taha Merghoub, it is essential to identify the needs of the country in an area and to try to respond to “Algerian Issues”.

“The Algerian solution must be based on excellence and on the obligation of results”, he adds. For Professor Merghoub, the motto is simple: do your job and do it well.

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Meeting with Taha Merghoub, brilliant Algerian researcher in the USA

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