Course work and extracurriculars help build key skills for independent research career
Adil Rasheed, a graduate from the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy is the 2022 recipient of the Young Investigator Award, from STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, one of the leading journals in the field. The award recognizes impactful research led by a young researcher that pushes the boundaries of novel and insightful research. As the 2022 recipient, Rasheed also received $10,000.
The research that drew this recognition was completed by Rasheed during his PhD program and revealed potential new treatment approaches for a condition that blocks arteries in the heart and drives cardiovascular disease.
“I received a lot of my fundamental training writing and conducting research primarily from Dr. Cummins as my graduate supervisor, as well as Cummins lab alumni and others at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, and that’s still what I rely on,” says Rasheed, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. “My course work and research gave me a solid background in cardiovascular disease, and I was able to build a network and develop a leadership style through my extracurriculars.”
Rasheed started his graduate studies with Carolyn Cummins, associate professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, in 2011 after completing a Bachelor of Science from U of T Scarborough, specializing in cell and molecular biology. As a graduate student, he joined the Collaborative Program in Cardiovascular Sciences, which allowed him to access specialized courses and build his scientific network in the cardiovascular field.
Cummins’ team focuses on proteins called nuclear receptors and their role in metabolic diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis, a disease that affects the arteries and can lead to heart disease and stroke. The ultimate goal of this line of research is to help identify potential new therapies that can target these diseases.
In Rasheed’s PhD project, he investigated the role of the nuclear receptor liver X receptor (LXR) in regulating endothelial progenitor cells, which support the cells that line blood vessels. During this project, he collaborated with scientists and clinicians at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to examine whether activating LXRs in cultured endothelial progenitor cells could be an effective treatment for atherosclerosis. In the research published in and recognized by STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, Rasheed found that when LXR was activated in isolated progenitor cells, the cells released factors that helped to decrease inflammation in the vessel wall, from both animal and human patient tissue samples. This advance could help in developing new ways to treat atherosclerosis.
“We’ve done a good job over the last 50 years at addressing the lipid aspect of atherosclerosis, yet this disease persists. In fact, our ability to reduce cardiovascular disease–related deaths has stalled, so we still have a long way to go to,” says Rasheed. “Our study here shows that you can also address vascular inflammation that also dramatically contributes to atherosclerosis. If we can treat these patients during the progression of disease, we could potentially help prevent fatal complications like heart attack or stroke.”
Cummins’ team is now continuing this research in collaboration with Dr. Milica Radisic and the PRiME precision medicine initiative to understand the protein components responsible for the protective effect. The current research in the Cummins lab on this project, along with Rasheed’s work, is funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.
“Adil did a tremendous job executing this very complicated experiment and it was extremely gratifying to have the positive result after much dedicated work,” says Cummins. “This recognition is very well deserved, and it is great to see Adil building his career.”
Rasheed completed his PhD in 2017 and started a post-doctoral fellowship at the Ottawa Heart Institute that continued to explore the contributions of inflammation to heart disease. Rasheed says his research training and extracurricular activities during his PhD have helped set him up for a promising independent research career.
Extracurriculars helped in developing valuable leadership skills
While Rasheed was working on his PhD research, he was also participating in activities and leadership opportunities at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy that helped him develop important skills.
“Coming out of an undergraduate program where the classes were large, being in the pharmaceutical sciences graduate program was the first time I was able to really demonstrate who I was. I was able to have more opportunities to grow and develop some of the leadership skills that I have today,” says Rasheed. “These experiences helped me differentiate myself, not only as a researcher, but as more of a leader.”
Rasheed was a member of the U of T student chapter of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, including serving as chair for one year, where he gained valuable administrative and leadership experience. He was also able to take part in symposia and seminars at the Faculty, which allowed him to learn about many facets of pharmaceutical research and start-up companies and build a professional network.
As he nears the end of his fellowship, he says his education, experience and the latest research award will help give him a boost as he aims to start his independent career within the year.
“It’s a huge honour, and I think this will be a steppingstone for my career,” he says. “I’m hoping to build a research program in stem cell biology, and this will give me another avenue to highlight myself as a junior investigator in this field.”
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