Kashmiri neuroscientist receives $1.8 million in prestigious NSF CAREER Award in USA

Mubarak Hussain Syed, a Kashmir-born neuroscientist in the USA has received the prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

An assistant professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico (UNM), Syed is set to receive $1.8 million over the next five years for his project “Mechanisms regulating neural identity, connectivity and function – From stem cells to circuits.”

According to a statement issued on the University of New Mexico NewsRoom website, Syed, a neuroscientist, is interested in the development and function of neurons, glia (other cell types in the human brain), and neural circuits and his lab studies developmental programs regulating neural diversity and function – from stem cells to neural circuits.

“Over the years, I have gained experience in developmental neuroscience, and now we are aiming to establish a link between developmental mechanisms and adult behaviours using Drosophila, or fruit flies, as a model system,” he has been quoted as saying.

“I have been working with fruit flies for over a decade. They are incredible creatures and have led to many fundamental discoveries in many fields, including the development, genetics, and neuroscience,” he added.

“We are currently studying neural stem cell-specific programs that regulate the identity and function of neural types that populate adult Drosophila central complex – a highly conserved brain structure necessary for complex behaviours, including sensorimotor integration, locomotor action selection and sleep”

Syed will be using the NSF CAREER award to achieve three passions of his: research, engaging a diverse population of undergraduate students into neuroscience research, and science outreach, the article cites.

“Thanks to the NSF, my lab members, mentors and the collaborators, this award will cover my research, engaging students into neuroscience research and science outreach.” he was quoted saying.

“The molecular mechanisms that regulate the formation and function of neural cell types are not fully understood. Our lab will investigate this long-standing problem using the Drosophila central model system. Through this award, the studies will advance the field by identifying the mechanisms that regulate neural diversity, identity, and function of neural circuits,” Syed explained in the UNM Newsroom article.

“This will enhance our fundamental knowledge of how neural cell types are generated and assembled so we can better harness stem cells to treat disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, and autism,” he added.

“I aim to recruit undergraduate researchers to carry out experiments in a lab-based neurogenetics lab course through this award. This neuroscience course will provide a course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) NeuroCURE to a diverse group of learners, thus allowing them to better identify themselves as scientists with the capacity to engage in a critical field of study actively. This course will be the first neuroscience lab course offered to undergraduates at the UNM Biology,” he was quoted saying.

“I am very passionate about science outreach and reaching out to the local schools by visiting the classroom. I have been doing these activities for some time now,” he said.

The article also carried that Syed, over the years, has visited various schools and educational institutes and demonstrated experiments in a classroom. Through a Pueblo Brain Science (PBS) program, he and his students aim to visit the local Pueblo high schools of Zia and Jemez and demonstrate hands-on fruit fly activities to the school pupil and the community the power of fruit flies.

These activities will address two of New Mexico’s grand challenges, education and addiction. The mission of PBS will be to provide exposure to science and to raise awareness about the ill effects of drugs and other addictive substances have on the brain and health. The Syed lab will coordinate high school visits to the UNM and specifically to the neural diversity lab through NM MESA.

“I have also partnered with the local school teachers to implement active learning modules in the school using Droso4school modules. Our goal will be to present lessons and classroom activities that align with the high school Next Generation Science Standards. Fruit flies are a powerful model system for uncovering conserved principles of animal biology and are uniquely suited for live experiments in resource-limited schools.” he was quoted saying.

“At UNM, I realized that most undergraduates, specifically students belonging to underrepresented minorities, underprivileged, and economically weaker sections, don’t know about research opportunities or don’t get any research opportunities during college years. I have started an informal mentorship program called NEURONAL, which stands for Neuroscience Experiences and Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos, more details about the program can be found on my lab webpage,” he said.

“After teaching genetics and neuroscience to junior and senior undergraduates, I realized most of these students feel lost, have little information about research and research-oriented fields, and needed direction. I have started an informal mentorship program called NEURONAL:  Neuroscience Experiences and Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos/Hispanic. I am from Kashmir, and to help/mentor students back home, I started an organization JKScientists when I was a graduate student. It is a public organization now, and thanks to the young generation of students, it is moving forward.” he was quoted further saying.


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