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From war child to leading the fight against kidney disease

17 October 2019

Growing-up in a war-torn country, separated from her parents hundreds of miles away in London, kidney specialist Soma Meran says the childhood memories of the Iraq war will always shape her.

Dr Soma Meran

Today, she pours her energy into finding a cure for kidney disease, with a drive that can be attributed to the wonderful relationship she had with her grandparents.

Both strong believers in education they nurtured Soma’s love for learning, as well as instilling in her the importance of doing the very best you can to help people.

She said: “I’m Kurdish, from the north of Iraq. I was born there but came to the UK when I was seven. My family lived under the Saddam Hussain regime, my grandad was a humanitarian against this regime.”

“Because of this my grandad’s family were targeted, nearly all of his children, (including my parents), had to leave Iraq for their own safety.”

Soma’s parents were doctors and left Iraq for Paris to study for their postgraduate medical qualifications.

They left Soma with her grandparents hoping they would take her to join them once they were settled. However, the political situation deteriorated and Soma was prevented from leaving the country – it also became unsafe for her parents to return to get her.

She said: “I was oblivious to it all as I was so young. I stayed with my grandparents for another six years. They were not illiterate but they had no education beyond primary school, so they were very keen for their children and grandchild to have more. They wanted me to live a different life without
having to fight for basic human rights and wanted me to have an education because it was a privilege that they never had.

“I managed to re-join my parents in London when I was eight. “When I was sent to the UK to be with them my grandmother was sadly killed shortly after. I believe she was shot by people who were looking for my grandfather. I wasn’t told about her death until I was ten years old. This had quite a profound effect on me as it meant the grief I felt wasn’t immediate. I still get upset now when I think about her.”

The importance of education

From a very young age Soma saw having an education and being able to work as a huge privilege.

She studied hard, doing her PhD at Cardiff and was inspired to become a nephrologist by the people she worked with.

One of them was Professor Steve Riley. Soma said: “He was my registrar when I was a junior trainee. He is just a fantastic clinician and his attention to detail was incredible. He gives 110 percent to every patient he sees. I also feel he has real empathy for his patients – he is someone I would want looking after me if I had kidney disease.”

Dr Riley inspired Soma to become a nephrologist, along with Professor Aled Phillips who was her PhD supervisor. Professor Phillips is a clinical academic in nephrology who introduced Soma to the field of cell biology in kidney disease. His research drive and work ethics inspired her too and he has continued to be an influential mentor during her research career.

Dr Soma Meran and family
Dr Soma Meran and family

Life today

Today Soma successfully juggles life as a single mother, Kidney Research UK funded researcher and a clinician, with admirable focus.

She said: “I’m just very passionate about the research and the science I do. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I can’t believe I’m being paid to do what I love.

“What also drives me are the patients I see. I really feel for them, particularly if they need dialysis because it takes over their lives.

“I see what they go through and I really feel that we need to progress research in this area so we can offer more options for these people.”

Soma hopes that research will provide an alternative to dialysis which offers a better quality of life to patients with kidney failure.

Already we are seeing evidence that the progress of some kidney diseases can be reversed or halted. We just need to find the right set of circumstances to take this to the next level.

“Funding is a huge issue for any research, as ultimately it is very expensive – but if we can overcome those obstacles I think anything is possible.”

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