Where It All Began...

21 Jan 2019

When I was younger, I would spend hours browsing the internet for scientific research articles.


Back in 2009, when I was seventeen + trying to figure out which courses to apply to at university, I came across the L'Oréal science website. This website publicises the vast amounts of scientific research that L'Oréal does, as well as their Women in Science fellowship scheme. The L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship is a global scheme that recognises + awards women in science. As I was browsing the list of countries in which women have been awarded, I noticed that Pakistan was in the list!


At that time in my life, I was travelling to Pakistan every annually to visit my relatives, all of whom reside in Karachi, a city in the south of Pakistan. I was curious as to whether any of the Pakistani fellows were from Karachi + to my surprise, one of them was! I immediately sent her a (very enthusiastic!) email + asked if I could shadow her for a few days on my next visit to Karachi. She was very humble + kindly agreed!


Prof. Farzana Shaheen is a Professor of Chemistry at the International Center for Chemical + Biological Sciences (ICCBS), University of Karachi. Her research is in protein synthesis + natural product chemistry, with a focus on studying medicinal compounds in plants native to Pakistan. She holds six patents, one of which is for anti-cancer peptides.


During my three-week internship, I learnt about the processes involved in extracting compounds from plants using chromatography, including how to perform High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). I also performed the Kaiser test, which is used in each addition step of peptide synthesis to ensure the amino acid has been added.


I was also given a tour of many of the labs in ICCBS, including the computational chemistry lab led by Prof. Zaheer Ul-Haq Qasmi. I walked in to the lab + rather than seeing wet lab equipment, all I saw were computers. I saw a student using what I now know is a molecular viewer + that was the moment I discovered my passion!


I was not exposed to computational biology or chemistry until I was in the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree in biology at Queen Mary, University of London. Bear in mind, I was born + raised in London. I had always been comfortable + confident using computers, as well as being fascinated by nature So, had I not been inspired four years earlier in Pakistan, I would not have been as driven to pursue computational biology.


This year, I had the opportunity to visit Karachi for personal reasons. It has been precisely a decade since my last proper visit to Karachi + I arranged a visit to ICCBS. Prof. Shaheen kindly gave me a tour of the old labs I had seen, as well as the vast number of new ones. I will be writing more blog posts about the work being done at ICCBS, so stay tuned.


The most special moment of my visit was visiting Prof. Qasmi's lab with Prof. Shaheen. It was incredible to be back in the same place where it all started, a decade later, having just submitted my PhD thesis in computational biology.







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