Typically, when the time comes to start searching for labs, Midwood Science Research students will gravitate towards a workplace within the bounds of their academic comfort zones — but not senior Idrees Ilahi.
Having studied chemistry for two consecutive years at Midwood, Ilahi decided it was time to venture into something completely new: microbiology.
With a position secured in Dr. Bruce Cronstein's biochemistry and molecular pharmacology lab at NYU Langone Medical Center, Ilahi set to work on his research in the summer of 2019.
"I research the role of PKA and EPAC2 proteins in the cAMP second messenger system, which is a system that converts extracellular signals into intracellular processes. These signals activate a wide array of proteins (including PKA and EPAC2) so that they may aid in many important physiological activities. Specifically, we focus on the role of PKA and EPAC2 proteins in osteoblasts, which are cells that form bones," he explains.
Although an evidently rigorous project, Ilahi handled the adjustment with competency and finesse. "The first thing I realized was that almost all of my project depended on how hard I worked, seeing as that I was really the one in control of what I was doing. This forced me to be more independent, and set my own goals," he says.
One of these goals, aside from educating himself on microbiology through independent research, was to understand the importance of his project in the real world. Ilahi shares, "In a nutshell, we're working to help develop a cure for osteoporosis; it's a disease that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide, causing the degradation of bones over time. We're trying to better understand the role of proteins PKA and EPAC2 within osteoblasts, so that we can figure out how to successfully combat the disease".
Such an undertaking requires the use of very sophisticated research methods, many of which Ilahi has become experienced with. "I've learned how to do bone decalcification (which is basically just bone-softening so that they can be sliced), polymerase chain reactions (PCR) and gel electrophoresis, which is the stretching of DNA for further examination," he revealed.
On a separate but equally as intriguing note, Ilahi describes his lab environment as "Very homey… if that makes sense". He claims that with the messiness of everybody's projects going on at once, it feels like family, in the sense that it reminds him of how no one (not even the professionals) are trying to be perfect.
According to Ilahi, the best part of his job is "Finally achieving success after repeatedly failing," which is an innate part of the research process. To triumph through the many hurdles of such a complicated project, Ilahi recommends a strong spirit of patience and self-motivation. "I think trying to not get discouraged when things don't work out is the most challenging part of the whole thing," he adds, "but if you dedicate your all to it, and choose to work on something that you enjoy, it will always be worth it in the end".
Alyssa Kattan (Class of 2020)