When the research of Nazar Hussein, a third-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student, was selected from 1,200 poster submissions to win him a Young Investigator Award from the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research Society (ASBMR) in 2019, he felt honored – and also appreciative of the education he had earned so far in the United States.
Hussein came to the U.S. in 2014 upon his acceptance to Kent State University’s Biomedical Sciences master’s program — a joint partnership with Northeast Ohio Medical University. Students in the program have access to faculty in both institutions and work in the research labs at NEOMED
Hussein was eager to join the lab of Fayez Safadi, Ph.D., director of NEOMED’s Musculoskeletal Research Focus Area. The Tikrit University graduate completed a master’s degree under Dr. Safadi and continues to work in his lab while he works towards earning a Ph.D.
Back home in Iraq, Hussein had hoped to become a biology teacher. Now, as a Ph.D. candidate, he finds joy in conducting biology-related research along with serving as a teaching assistant for the Immunity and Infections course taken by second-year College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy students.
A cartilage connection
After focusing his master’s degree research on osteoporosis, Hussein decided to specialize in osteoarthritis, a cartilage disease, for his Ph.D. research.
“Several of us researchers at NEOMED work on the same disease and concept, but we use different approaches. My approach is to look at a gene that is involved in inflammation. Inflammation is a major cause for cartilage degradation, which can eventually lead to osteoarthritis,” explains Hussein.
While many researchers try to understand how to suppress inflammation in our joints, Hussein wants to manipulate the genes that are responsible for triggering that information.
Hussein does this by using molecular biology tools such as viruses and bacteria that deliver new DNA to cells.
“The viruses that are delivered to the cells we study are programmed. We put a certain segment of DNA (gene of interest) inside them and the viruses act as carriers. That way, the cell will acquire that new DNA and that new DNA will give orders for the cells, such as more or less protein production,” says Hussein.
He is studying a certain protein that physically binds to other major proteins that are associated with inflammation pathways in chondrocytes — the main cells that make up cartilage.
“If we can control this protein function, we may be able to alter the inflammation pathways. And as a result, we would hope to see less inflammation in the joint cartilage,” says Hussein.
“I felt pretty honored. I have to give credit to Dr. Safadi — the one who introduced me to this research. It was nice to see how my work has paid off. As I am getting closer to the completion of my degree, I cannot wait to explore all options and opportunities out there by applying my transferable and valuable skills that I’ve learned during my studies at NEOMED and Kent State University.”