Bangladeshi scientist's discovery to save human lives | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 28, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 28, 2008

Bangladeshi scientist's discovery to save human lives

POLITICIANS and their surrogates have vitiated the atmosphere of Bangladesh while at least some professionals have earned reputation and brought laurel for the country by dint of their efforts, study and research in different fields. In micro finance Professor Mohammad Yunus has earned international fame by receiving Nobel Prize while Professor Abul Hussam has been awarded Grainer Challenge gold and one million dollars by prestigious National Academy of Engineers of the United States of America for his innovative and cost effective project of filtering out arsenic from well waters.
Now Syed Ashraf Ahmed, a scientist, has discovered a highly efficient inhibitor of botulinum neurotoxin type A which can lead to development of a very effective drug to stop the devastating effect of toxin in human body. Syed Ashraf has initiated the structure based inhibitor design as part of the bio-defence research programme of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRID) where he is working as principal investigator and research chemist from 1997. Syed Ashraf has concentrated on designing a number of small scale peptide which appears to be an effective anti-dote to the potent form of toxin.
Research work on Botulinum neuro toxin -- produced by the bacterium clostridium botulinum -- has begun in nineteenth century with the advancement of science when German physician Justinus Kerner described botulium toxin as "sausage poison and fatty poison". Less than a billion of an ounce could cause muscle paralysis leading to death. It is deadly protein known to human being. In 1870, Emile van Ermengem isolated the bacterium clostrium botulium. In 1944, Edward Shantz cultured clostridium botulium and isolated the toxin. Dr. Shantz also succeeded to produce botulinum as weapon during Second World War but came out with conclusion that botulium had only limited battle field application.
Over the years research work on botulium neurotoxin has been on- going. Doctor Alan B. Scott experimented on monkeys and produced botulium toxin type A (BTX-A) which he applied on human body to treat strabismus. US food and Drug administration approved BTX-A in 1989 for treatment of strabismus, blepharospasm, and hemifacial spasm.
Born in Brahmanbaria in 1951 Syed Ashraf Ahmed having obtained MSc in Biochemistry from Dhaka University in 1974 obtained diploma in Microbiology from Osaka and Kyoto in 1979 and PhD in Microbial biochemistry in Kyoto as Monbusho(Japanese government scholarshipMonbukagakusho) scholar. Prior to that he served in Dhaka University as a Lecturer in Biochemistry from 1975 to 1978. Syed Ashraf was a visiting fellow at Fogarty International centre of National Institute of Health (NIH) in Maryland from 1983 to 1987.National Institute of Health is the largest and most prestigious biomedical research institute in the world. During his stay in NIH scientist Syed Ashraf did some research work on the structure of an important enzyme (Tryptophan Synthase). His research results were duly appreciated by scientists and included in major graduate level biochemistry text books in the west.
As a structural protein bio-chemist Syed Ashraf had studied the structure of protein and discovered that "the area where the enzymatic reaction takes place, called active site, has a particular property of being highly negatively charged, but positively charged small protein molecules called peptides could bind to the active site interfering with the toxin's normal enzymatic reaction" and arrived at a conclusion that basic peptides inhibitor would be most effective in interfering with the toxin reaction in solution. He requested his collaborator Subramanyam Swaminathan, PhD, lab biologist at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, to make solid crystals of the toxin having the bound inhibitor that Syed Ashraf had developed. Brookhaven Laboratory confirmed the finding of Syed Ashraf.
On this success Colonel George W. Korch, USAMRID's commander, commented: "This study represents an impressive collaboration in identifying potential inhibitors of the toxin for therapeutic use. It builds upon the successes we have realised in developing effective next-generation vaccines to protect our citizens against the toxin's deadly effects prior to exposure". Syed Ashraf's findings were carried out in the prestigious widely read journal of Biological Chemistry. In an interview to Voice of America on May 11 Syed Ashraf hoped to make this discovery an eventful success for mankind.
Syed Ashraf Ahmed is research adviser of the prestigious National Research Council of US National Academy of Sciences since 2000. He has to his credit 70 research publications published mainly by Journal of Biological Chemistry and Biochemistry. By now Syed Ashraf has distinguished himself as a scientist of reputation. He is a pride of Bangladesh indeed. It would be appropriate if Dhaka University honoured Syed Ashraf Ahmed by offering an honorary doctorate degree.

Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a former Bangladesh diplomat, writes from Virginia.

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