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Nashrah Ahmad, Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student

Prizewinning Science Communicator: Nashrah Ahmad

Earlier this year, Nashrah Ahmad, a fourth-year Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student, was awarded the People’s Choice Award at Kent State University’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition.

Ahmad, who studies osteoarthritis in the lab of Tariq M. Haqqi, Ph.D., a Northeast Ohio Medical University professor of anatomy and neurobiology, describes her presentation for the competition as delivering a mini TED Talk.

“We had to communicate our research idea in an engaging manner to a lay audience. They said even your grandmother, who knows nothing about osteoarthritis, should also understand it like you. It was really challenging — we couldn’t use any science jargon or technical terms,” she says.

For her presentation, Ahmad explained her research from NEOMED’s Musculoskeletal Research Focus Area on osteoarthritis, inflammation and PRT — a drug that is showing promising results, in her opinion.

“Cartilage is a slippery rubber-like layer between two bones that protects them from rubbing against each other and allows their smooth movement in a joint. In osteoarthritis, this layer of cartilage breaks down, leading to severe pain. I’ve been trying to find a compound that will prevent this breakdown of cartilage so the bones can move smoothly without any pain. After screening a large number of compounds, I identified a compound called PRT, that has shown that it’s able to,” says Ahmad.

Moving science forward

Unfortunately, there is no cure for osteoarthritis, and the existing therapies provide only temporary relief from pain. The ultimate option for patients is to go for a joint replacement surgery — a process when patients receive a new metal implant.

Dr. Haqqi and Ahmad collaborate with local hospitals where patients undergo joint replacement surgeries. Through this arrangement, the scientists can use the damaged cartilage from the discarded joints to test the effectiveness of PRT.

So far, their tests of PRT have shown maximum inhibition of inflammation — and that’s good, since Ahmad describes inflammation as “a fire in the body that damages tissues like cartilage and bones.”

“The most interesting thing about it is, PRT has already been tested and found safe for human use in clinical trials treating liver cancer. We will need to test it for osteoarthritis, but not again for its safety, which will expedite the development of this drug for osteoarthritis,” says Ahmad.

The hope of an expedited process for osteoarthritis treatment is encouraging to Ahmad.

“The fact that I’m able to contribute something to the translational aspect of this research is incredible. What I do can go from bench to bedside. Somehow in my little own way, I can contribute to the cure of osteoarthritis,” she says.

Taking her research international

Ahmad is also excited to continuing sharing her research with others. Since winning the People’s Choice Award at Kent State University’s 3MT® competition, she was selected to receive KSU’s Graduate Student Senate (GSS) International Travel Award to present her research internationally.

She plans to present her research at the Osteoarthritis Research Society International 2020 World Congress next April in Vienna.

Watch Ahmad’s 3MT® presentation on YouTube.

Photo courtesy of Kent State University’s Division of Graduate Studies