Meet Our Lab Heroes Awards-TM 2019 Runner-Up: Irfan Khan
We’re delighted to introduce Dr Irfan Khan, one of our two Lab Heroes AwardsTM 2019 Runners-Up! Irfan received some fantastic nominations from his colleagues at the Stem Cell Lab, PCMD, International Centre for Chemical and Biological Science in Pakistan. They told us what a great supervisor and scientist he is, how generously he shares his knowledge and expertise, and that he’s a brilliant role model who motivates, encourages, and inspires his students.
Irfan was born in Kohat, in the province Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa of Pakistan. He completed his education in Kohat City and after graduation moved to Karachi City for his further studies. Here he joined the Dr. Panjwani Center for Molecular Medicine and Drug Research, and completed his PhD in 2013 in the Stem Cell Laboratory. He’s now working as Assistant Professor in Molecular Medicine in the same institute.
We spoke to Irfan about his research, how it felt to be named one of our Lab Heroes, his advice for early career scientists, and more.
Congratulations, Irfan! First of all, we’d love to hear a bit more about your research...
My current research interest involves molecular mechanisms that maintain stemness, and induce differentiation in stem cells. Bone marrow, adipose, and human umbilical cord derived mesenchymal stem cells have the potential to self-renew and capability to differentiate. My research interest includes isolation of stem cells from perinatal sources, and their therapeutic application in repair of intervertebral disc and spinal cord injuries. I am working on regenerating cardiovascular injuries, their characterization and repair with stem cells and their derivatives in form of cardiac progenitors, with the help of small molecules and gene manipulation. My focus is to establish a GMP facility for clinical grade stem cells in Pakistan, and transform current basic stem cell research into translational medicine. My future interests include direct differentiation and trans-differentiation of stem cells with the help of small molecules, genetic and epigenetic modification to neurons, cardiomyocytes, insulin secreting beta cells, and to skin fibroblast.
How did it feel when you found out you were one of our Lab Heroes Awards runners-up?
It was very exciting news, and it really motivated me. I never expected that I could be one of the winners and I feel really great. It made my day.
Why do you think it’s so important to champion life science researchers, and what more could be done to show life scientists recognition?
Awards and recognitions are a source of motivation, one always feels good and tries to excel more. There should be more such recognitions and awards so that others can get an idea about the research work being conducted by researchers around the world. Specifically, travel awards are really important as it is not easy to get funding and participate in conferences.
What are you planning on using your Hello Bio vouchers and travel grant for?
I will use the Hello Bio vouchers for general supplies for our stem cell laboratory, and will use the travel grant to represent my laboratory and present our research in a relevant scientific forum.
Did you always want to be a scientist?
During my undergraduate studies in microbiology, I was interested in exploring life science and looking deep inside biological phenomena. This interest was nurtured further as I entered a research institute as a graduate student. I started my career as a researcher in cell biology in the same institute, though I got the opportunity of teaching in my hometown. I chose to stay away from home for the sake of deeply exploring the exciting wonders of regenerative medicine.
Tell us a bit more about what you're working on in the lab at the moment…
I am working with the stem cells isolated from adult tissues, especially human umbilical cord tissue and cord blood. I differentiate these stem cells into chondroprogenitor, and cardiomyoblasts with the aid of transcription factors and preconditioning approaches, and transplant them in disease models of intervertebral disc degeneration and myocardial infarction, respectively. Finally, we evaluate their regenerating potential, and their ultimate contribution towards preclinical and clinical studies.
What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?
Every day, the laboratory is exciting. Either you get results from the previous day’s labor or you’re preparing for a new task. Discussing findings with lab members or assisting them with their experiments is something I always enjoy.
What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?
The most exciting thing about my research field is that it deals with the regeneration of diseased tissue or organs. I dream of a future where nobody dies because of organ failure or organ shortage, as stem cell therapy has the potential to regenerate any organ of the human body.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing life scientists at the moment?
In my country, research funding for scientists is a real challenge. And I think this is the main challenge in other parts of the world too. Also, one of the biggest challenges for a scientist is maintaining a social life, as well as dealing with family issues, while wanting to dedicate all their time to research.
What advice would you give to life scientists just starting out in their careers?
I believe that to have a scientific career one must be well trained, and must start working with already established researchers to get maximum experience. Above all, there is no shortcut to success. Hard work, honesty and dedication are the keys to success.
So many people who nominated you commented on your brilliant mentorship skills. What are your top tips for being a great mentor?
I believe that sharing knowledge and skills enables one to learn more. I try to be available for my students 24/7 and this makes their life easier too.
What’s your favorite science quote?
My favorite science quote is: “In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared minds.” by Louis Pasteur
What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?
I think that the discovery of penicillin is the greatest scientific discovery.
Thank you so much for speaking to us Irfan, and congratulations again on being named one of our Runners-Up!
Irfna is a member of the American Heart Association, and Stem Cell Society of Pakistan. His research funding comes from Institutional Allocated Funds and from the Higher Education Commission, Pakistan.
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