Insights into the NEST Framework: A chat with Ahmad Sleiman

NEA NEST Fellow Ahmad Sleiman

Ahmad Sleiman is a PhD student in neurotoxicology at France’s Institute of Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) who has been able to gain valuable experience by working for a year as a Fellow of the NEA’s Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology (NEST) Framework.

Ahmad’s interest in the medical field led him to pharmacy studies, where he has analysed a wide range of stressors and their impact on human health. These include ionising radiation, which is used in medical applications and eventually brought him to the nuclear sector. He is currently researching the impact of ionising radiation used in proton therapy on the human brain.

As a NEST Fellow, Ahmad worked with the Medical Applications, Nuclear Technologies, Radioprotection and Safety (MANTRAS) project, which he discovered during the first year of his PhD studies. This project focuses, in particular, on the development of new technologies for future nuclear applications in medicine and dosimetry, including the experimental production of radioisotopes and radiotherapy techniques.

He discovered the NEA’s NEST Framework thanks to the involvement of the IRSN in the partnership. In collaboration with the Health Canada Institute, he was able to start the year-long fellowship in Ottawa, Canada, in August 2022.


What did you focus on during your fellowship?

During this fellowship, I focused on and developed an Adverse Outcome Pathway (AOP)* linking energy deposition to impairment of learning and memory, which has been submitted to AOP WIKI and is to be published shortly.

*Constructing an AOP entails collecting, organising and describing information regarding a toxicological response that is initiated by a biological and molecular initiating event (MIE) after exposure to stressors, which is energy deposition from ionising radiation in the AOP, and the subsequent series of intermediate key events (KE) that culminate in the manifestation of an adverse outcome (AO), such as the impairment of learning and memory.


What is the main challenge of the area of your research?

The HC’s and IRSN’s proposed AOP project in the Subprogramme 5 of the NEST MANTRAS project can help define strategies to mitigate the risks associated with radiation exposures. Indeed, because exposure to ionising radiation can occur in humans from multiple events, including occupational exposures, accidental exposures, war-time exposures, radiotherapy treatment and space travel, understanding its impact on the central nervous system structure and function is essential. This AOP outlines a biological framework for the connection between ionising radiation and learning and memory impairment. It can be used by regulatory bodies to inform risk assessment strategies, the identification of risk mitigation strategies, countermeasure development, and the identification of gaps in the evidence base where more research is necessary. Importantly, this AOP is a dynamic document that can be modified as new evidence emerges.


How can the main outcomes of your research impact the nuclear sector?

The AOP is strictly linked with the nuclear field since it will help to structure and integrate information on ionising radiation from the initiating event at the molecular level up to the adverse effect observed (whether derived from in vivo, in vitro or silico data) and to promote predictive approaches in hazard assessment of impairment of learning and memory. Also, the AOP will guide the implementation of test strategies to develop, prioritise and justify targeted tests.


What did you gain from this experience?

The MANTRAS project led me to work effectively under pressure, meet deadlines and comprehend new material and subject matter quickly.


What is the impact of the NEA NEST Fellowships?

The NEA NEST Fellowship combines theoretical knowledge gained through classes and workshops and practical experience acquired through experiments and case studies. The NEST Framework wants to apply this knowledge to address real-world issues and challenges and develop new ideas and products via exploratory research projects.

For this reason, this experience will be a prominent mark on my plans. Before MANTRAS, I technically had no experience working in the field of radiological protection. Now, I will continue to work in this field, specifically in radiation oncology and radiotherapy.


If someone asked you if they should consider applying to a NEST Fellowship, what would you say?

 NEST will help you develop skills and competencies related to challenging nuclear projects and activities. Also, it is an incredible opportunity to build networks where the next generation of nuclear leaders and professionals could flourish. Especially for the young generations, the NEST Fellowship is a talent pipeline to industries and regulators.

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