Note: The April 15 neurodegenerative diseases conference is one story; a profile of neuroscientist Niloufar Haque, who also helps her research scientist sister study biodiversity in local New York City waterways in addition to her own neurodegenerative research using stem cells, is another. Photo of Niloufar and her sister available upon request.
Newswise — Darjeeling tea is perhaps India's best-known export, but neuroscientist Niloufar Haque, who is an assistant professor of biology at New York City College of Technology/CUNY (City Tech), may someday usurp that claim to fame.
Her work on biodiversity in regional waterways and stem cell research in neurodegenerative disease has led to mentions in The New York Times, invitations to international and national conferences, and myriad scientific journal publications, including the Journal of Cell Science, the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience and FEBS (Federation of European Biochemical Societies) Letters.
She and her sister, biochemist Nasreen Haque, who teaches at Barnard College, may even solve the mystery of the "white stuff" in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn -- a current project.
The two Willowbrook, Staten Island, residents are scientific advisors for Urban Divers, filming under water, collecting samples and analyzing them. "We are collaborating with them to establish a lab for environmental research at Harlem River Marine Station in the Bronx," says non-diver Niloufar.
The Haques have filed reports with Urban Divers, a non-profit organization that regularly provides updates to the Environmental Protection Agency on the Arthur Kill and Gowanus waterways and area marshlands. They plan to involve City Tech students in monitoring the various waterways that they study.
Haque also plumbs the brain's inner depths, and received a faculty development grant from The City University of New York (CUNY) to sponsor a conference, "An Interdisciplinary Approach to Neurodegenerative Diseases and Related Disorders: From Diagnosis to Therapy," which will be held on April 15 at City Tech. Speakers include scientists from Columbia University, Rockefeller University, Case Western University, the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities and several CUNY campuses.
"I study neurogenesis and plasticity in health and disease," she explains. "I'm interested in stem cell replacement as an alternative to therapy for neurodegenerative diseases." Using brain slices (usually from rodents, but also a Down Syndrome brain), she studies cell reaction to pathology that she creates and reverses, involving tau protein, a key factor in Alzheimer's disease.
She co-authors many papers on the subject, and also collaborates in a project on Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases with Professor A. El-Iddrissi (Department of Biology, College of Staten Island) and with collaborators at the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities.
And, if that weren't enough, she travels to India twice a year to collaborate with scientists affiliated with Jamia Hamdard University in New Delhi. They are working on stem cell research using plant products that have anti-oxidant properties to determine if these agents can be effective in a cure for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The findings will be reported at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on the Prevention of Dementia in Washington, DC, in June.
Neuroscience captured Haque's interest in her early teens, thanks to neuroanatomist Professor Mahdi-Hasan, founder of India's Interdisciplinary Brain Research Center at Aligarh Muslim University. Her future mentor, "a scientist with innovative idea made dry subjects like anatomy come alive," she says. "When I was a teenager, I read his article on how lipofuscin collects like dust over cells in an aging brain; if you could remove the dust, the brain cells may get a chance to breathe -- a very fascinating idea to a 14-year-old like me!"
Reared in Darjeeling, in the northern region of India, Haque attended private schools there, Cambridge University and Aligarh, where she earned a BS and MS (chemistry), MPhil and PhD (neuroscience). She also won a Junior Research Fellowship from the Tata Memorial Trust in Bombay, a national award given to five individuals annually "for submitting a project towards alleviation of human suffering."
Now it's her turn to inspire others. The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) chose her to be a mentor, and she has guided Brooklyn College student Punam Thakkar in stem cell research since Thakkar was a high school student.
Thakkar recently presented a paper she and Haque co-authored at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students held in Dallas this past November, winning an honorable mention from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology's Minority Access to Research Careers Program for her poster presentation. Haque presented their research at an international Alzheimer's conference held in Sweden in July 2002.
Haque says proudly, "We work together almost every weekend; Punam volunteers her time. She is a wonderful student and has been on the Dean's List at Brooklyn College for the past three semesters and has received a scholarship to Downstate Medical School's MD Program for next fall."
She is also overseeing two City Tech students' research on Pick's Disease, which is similar to Alzheimer's in terms of accumulation of tau protein in the cerebral cortex of the brain, and is working with another City Tech student on a survey of genetic profiling that will be presented at the April 15 conference on neurodegenerative diseases that she is coordinating.
Contrary to some notions of limitations placed on Muslim women, Haque cites her culture's social pressures to achieve: "A family's pride is in its children's education, and scientific knowledge is a scale by which your intellectual capacity is measured. Surely, I was good. I could study science -- and what better than the science of the brain? Maybe I am biased, but I have always believed that the mind is a beautiful thing."
For information on the April 15 conference, "An Interdisciplinary Approach to Neurodegenerative Diseases and Related Disorders: From Diagnosis to Therapy," go to https://www.citytech.cuny.edu/SSL/forms/academics/pbs.html.
Speakers include Bruce McEwen (Rockefeller University), Lloyd Greene (Columbia University), Karl Herrup (Case Western University), Khalid Iqbal (NY State Institute for Basic Research), Ted Brown (NY State Institute for Basic Research) and Christina Palmese (Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center).
Presentations include "Molecular Mechanisms of Alzheimer Neurofibrillary Degeneration, "Cell Cycle Events in Neurodegenerative Diseases," "Transcriptional Regulation of Neuron Death," "What Does Stress Do to the Brain?", "Molecular Basis of The Fragile X Syndrome" and "Clinical and Basic Aspects of Epilepsy."
The largest public college of technology in New York State, New York City College of Technology (City Tech) is a recognized national model for urban technological education and a pioneer in integrating technology into the teaching/learning experience. Some 11,800 students currently are enrolled in 56 career-specific baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs in 21st century technologies and other fields. Another 12,400 students are enrolled in adult education and workforce development courses and programs. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex.