Student overcomes revolution and floods to earn PhD

6 Dec 2013

Political upheaval in her home country and devastating floods at her Ipswich apartment could not stop Dr Zeinab Khalil from graduating with a PhD in molecular bioscience and microbiology on Friday, 6 December.

Dr Khalil is among more than 5100 students graduating at ceremonies at The University of Queensland’s St Lucia, Ipswich and Gatton campuses from December 6 to 17. This is from a total 7079 students graduating from UQ this December.

Dr Khalil, who undertook her research at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), earned her PhD for identifying compounds from fungus with the potential to improve cancer treatments and antibiotics.

Her project was not without its setbacks however, as she was caught up in political revolution in her native Egypt while visiting family in January 2011 at the same time her Ipswich home was flooding.

“I was enjoying living in Australia and studying at UQ but, in 2011, everything turned upside down for me,” Dr Khalil said.

“I had to renew my passport in Egypt so I submitted it to the police, but then the revolution occurred and the police station was burnt down with my passport inside.

“Then a friend called and told me about the floods in Brisbane and that I had lost everything – my property, my car, my jewellery, my furniture – everything was gone.

“My friend couldn’t even open the door to my apartment because it was completely blocked by mud.

“I was stuck in Egypt with no passport so I couldn’t leave the country to come back to Australia and even if I could, there was no house for me.”

Dr Khalil credits her PhD supervisor, Professor Rob Capon, and IMB’s postgraduate team, particularly Dr Amanda Carozzi, with aiding her during this difficult time.

“Rob and Amanda were very helpful in accessing financial support from the IMB and finding me a place to live once I had replaced my passport and could return to Australia,” Dr Khalil said.

Her struggles paid off, with one examiner saying Dr Khalil’s thesis was one of the best she had ever read.

Dr Khalil found two compounds from fungus that could inhibit a protein in cancer cells and bacteria.

“My studies involved a protein called P-gp, which has the ability to expel drugs from cells, including cancer and bacterial cells, reducing their therapeutic effects,” Dr Khalil said.

“I identified two compounds that inhibit this P-gp protein, so that when a patient takes a chemotherapy drug or an antibiotic it will remain inside the cell and treat the patient.”

Dr Khalil will stay on in Professor Capon’s laboratory at the IMB to further her work into discovering drugs to treat diseases such as cancer and infection.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing medical genomics, drug discovery and biotechnology.

To give a tax-deductible donation to drug discovery research or student scholarships at IMB, please visit or call (07) 3346 2134.

Media contact: 
Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications Manager – 0418 575 247, 07 3346 2134 or

For more information on UQ December graduations, from Dec 6 to Dec 17, contact UQ Communications, 07 3346 0561 or