Hyderabadi Student in US identifies underlying mechanism of HIV’s neurological symptoms

Salahuddin Mohammed M.Sc. ’2010, found the perfect pairing for his interest in Pharmacology to explore drug interactions in biological systems when he enrolled in the BioMolecular Sciences PhD program at the University of Mississippi (also referred to as Ole Miss) School of Pharmacy. Siasat.com delves into his journey where he uncovered one of the underlying mechanisms for neurological problems in HIV infected population.

 “I realized the importance of memory not during any of my school exams but when my grandfather started forgetting things central to his daily routine. I thought he was just being careless — something which he never was. During my graduation, I became fully aware that memory loss is a degenerative disorder (function or structure changes for worse over time) and not an act of carelessness,” Mohammed said. Centuries of research in neuroscience opened many windows. Yet, many doors remained unlocked. 

This only nurtured his curiosity to understand the complex organ that is the brain motivated him to pursue a career in neuropharmacology.

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“Biology classes during my secondary education were the catalyst for my passion for science. It was through biology that I learned the systematics of the human body and the brain,” the scholar elaborates. His ardent interest along with his strong appetite for organic chemistry and pharmacology earned him Bachelor’s in Pharmacy from Osmania University, India (2008) and a Master’s in Pharmacology, from Aston University in the United Kingdom (2010). Presently, he is on track to receive a fully-funded PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences (Pharmacology) from the Ole Miss in 2022.

After completing his Masters, he accepted the position of Assistant Professor of Pharmacology in Ethiopia, where he worked for six years. During that time, in addition to teaching a load of Pharmacology classes, he initiated nascent sleep and mental health research activity at Mizan Tepi University Teaching Hospital, with researchers from major universities around the globe. The scholar focused on quantitative studies to determine the relationship between recreational drug use/abuse on affective (i.e. anxiety, depression) and sleep-related outcomes within seronegative and HIV+ populations. His findings highlighted the immense potential of such research to the U.S. federal mission in identifying, reducing, eradicating, and ultimately eliminating these mental health diseases. 

In the present data-driven world, Mohammed believes quantitative studies have become a fundamental tool to support a wide range of medical and healthcare functions.

He was intrigued by these research findings and wanted to learn the cellular/molecular mechanisms involved in these mental health diseases. Mohammed’s past work catalyzed his transition to a doctoral program at an R1 institution (very high research activity) in the USA. His dissertation mainly focused on understanding the neurological mechanisms of HIV and testing novel therapeutic compounds that may contribute to a cure for neuroHIV. He and his fellow neuroscientists at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy have used a mouse model which has been modified to express an HIV protein to study neuro-HIV related symptoms. 

The findings in mice provided empirical evidence that disruption of the Hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (stress-control pathway which regulates the level of stress hormones in the body) can engender behaviors that mimic anxiety, depression, and cognitive deficits, observed in the HIV+ population. This work provided much-needed insights into the cause of neuroHIV symptomatology, which largely relied on correlational studies, given the scarcity of animal models that may predict the behavioral characteristics of HIV patients. The researchers believed their continuous efforts will enable them to identify a biological marker for neuroHIV leading to new treatment options that may contribute to a cure for that ailment.

Being a strong advocate of science, the Ole Miss student strives continuously to reach larger underserved communities to make change. Community service is something he truly cares about. He credits his Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Jason Paris, at the University of Mississippi, for assisting him in developing the right approaches for answering research questions systematically and logically. “He guided me as a young scholar and used my strengths to direct me to identify the problem and use of right methods to test the hypotheses and draw meaningful interpretations from the results,” Mohammed said of Paris.  He also extends his appreciation towards Nicole Ashpole, PhD, his dissertation committee member, for her constant guidance, encouragement, and flexibility of use of her lab space.  

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