Classroom and Research Technician
Department of Pharmacology
Tell us a bit about your role
I support practical classes and assist with teaching MSc and undergraduate students at the Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford.
I obtained my first Master’s degree in Pharmacy from University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Subsequently, I embarked on researching the alkaloids present in a traditionally used medicinal plant Albizzia lebbeck and evaluated their pharmacological profiles.
My professional career began as an International Marketing Executive in a pharmaceutical company in Dhaka, Bangladesh. After a brief period at the company I switched back to research and teaching. I was an academic visitor (2010-2015) at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford and concurrently a part time A level (Chemistry and Biology) teacher at a Sixth Form College in Oxford.
I received scholarships from both University of Cambridge and University of Oxford to do research, leading to PhD. In 2018, I did a second Master’s degree (MRes) under the supervision of Prof. Fran Platt (University of Oxford). My research concerned the development of Small Molecule Therapeutics for Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) Disease. I identified analogues of curcumin with a virtual screen, using shape and electrostatics and predicted bioavailability. The research also included the development and validation of a high content cellular screen for endolysosomal trafficking defects using a cell model of Niemann Pick C disease. I was able to determine the activity of the top-ranking compounds from the virtual screen in the high-content cellular screen.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
I was a lecturer at the Department of Applied Chemistry at Dhaka University. At University of Oxford I have been helping students with practical classes. I feel I have a knack for teaching and am able to help students gain transferable skills, build confidence and acquire the drive to succeed. I have a probing mind and enjoy scientific research. Working in a creative environment (in pharmacology) where ground-breaking discoveries and innovations are happening on a continuous basis, is allowing me to apply my knowledge and skills and contribute to the advancement of science.
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
Currently, there is no cure for Niemann-Pick Type C (a fatal neurodegenerative disease). Available treatments only slow down disease progression (e.g., miglustat) but do not arrest the disease process. During my MRes, I was able to demonstrated that a novel lead compound, curcumin Analogue A, holds merit and should be further investigated for drug development for NPC disease as it reduces both lysosomal volume and increases peripheral lysosome numbers probably through inhibition of Sacro/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase (with a selective effect on Ca2+ signaling).
Whilst I was doing the MRes degree at Oxford, as a gesture of gratitude towards my late father I initiated and established the Harun Ur Rashid Memorial Scholarship. This competitive scholarship is for meritorious students from Bangladesh to do a Master’s degree at the University of Oxford. I have a dream of continuing to fundraise for the scholarship
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
Over the next 100 years research and innovations in precision medicine should be a high priority. In precision medicine the focus is on identifying which approaches will be effective for which patients - based on genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to particular drugs. This relatively new field combines pharmacology (the science of drugs) and genomics (the study of genes and their functions) for effective development of safe medication and doses that can be tailored to variations in a person’s genes.
Precision medicine, which is a revolutionary approach for patient care, uses advanced biomedical tools, including genetic and molecular testing and big-data analytics, to help clinicians better predict which treatment and prevention strategies will work best for which patients. It aims to replace the current one-size-fits-all model, in which therapies and interventions are developed for the “average” person, with one that tailors care to each patient’s unique biology and life circumstances.
The size and complexity of multidimensional characterization of patients will lead to far more complex diagnostic and prognostic categories than are currently available. Complex but empirically validated algorithms will be embedded in electronic recording systems as decision support tools to assist in everyday patient care. These management algorithms will evolve and will be modified continuously in accordance with inputs from ongoing clinical observations and from new research. I do hope that clinical decision support algorithms will be derived entirely from data rather than expert opinion, market incentives or committee consensus.
In decades to come pharmacogenomics will transform healthcare in a fundamental way. Work in this area has already started in premier laboratories across the world and is bound to lead to scientific breakthroughs and innovations.
However, currently a future in which precision medicine benefits everyone is not guaranteed. For that to happen, healthcare researchers and industry must first address health disparities, including differences in disease outcomes and access to care, based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status. If not, certain populations will most definitely miss out. This is because either some precision therapies will not work for those populations or because they will be unaffordable, consequently the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ will widen.
Researchers in precision medicine need to widen their study to include people with diverse backgrounds so that customised therapies can be developed that targets particular diseases genetic profile. This will bring faster, more effective care to more people. Over the coming decades, for example, someone with type 2 diabetes can be immediately placed on the medicine that is best suited for their genetic predisposition, their ethnicity, age, sex and the duration of time they have had the disease.
Today for instance, people of colour make up nearly 40% of the U.S. population and are expected to become the majority by mid-century. Historically, however, genetic studies have predominantly enrolled Caucasian population. The problem is even worse where older adults are concerned. There is very little clinical data on people over 75 years.
Diversifying clinical data should be a top priority for health institutions and companies. Otherwise, healthcare will be very good for some people and really bad for others, simply because modern scientific advances have not been applied to all populations equally. If we do not address health disparities concurrently with paradigm shift precision medicine development, we will not be able to achieve what we have set out to do in an all-inclusive and meaningful way.