Straight to the heart of the matter

28th January 2019

This article is taken from our January issue of My Life magazine. You can read the whole magazine here, or to subscribe to receive a free copy via email or post please sign up here.

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Dr Rameen Shakur, based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, received a £95,000 fellowship award from the Alexander Jansons Fund for his research into the causes and treatment of myocarditis.

What does the Alexander Jansons Fund fellowship award mean to you?

I am privileged and honoured to be the Alexander Jansons Fellow as this award reflects so much of my own ideas on how science and medical research should work.

I have always wanted to do research, which is difficult, but will also have a direct impact on the way patients are managed.

The Alexander Jansons Fund has been bold by investing in fundamental basic science research and how this can make a substantive contribution to our understanding of myocarditis treatment.

The award is enabling a really ambitious project like mine to become a reality and make inroads into developing a new treatment for myocarditis.

What discoveries have you made regarding myocarditis since you’ve been in America?

Myocarditis is an under-reported problem in the USA and there is a big demand for further research.

 People also really want to see rapid progress on treatment and intervention points as well. 

There is so much collaboration and diversity working under Professor Robert Langer in his lab at MIT, that I’ve been able to get quickly onto the main aspect of my research project, which is to develop numerous novel nanoparticles (synthetic particles that are able to penetrate cells).

I’m trying to make these particles using innovative chemistry techniques in order to target only the heart.

This will be a first.

I am pleased to say that the first batch of particles I’ve produced are robust and on testing them on normal cells before we use the heart cells, show particular fast uptake.

The plan is to make 100 different formulations of these particles and screen them on different types of cells to reflect the many cellular subtypes within the body.

This is a very ambitious project and if successful, will have lasting benefits for this field of research. 

What have you learnt from your time working under Professor Robert Langer at the MIT?

It is unusual to have such an eminent scientist supporting a fellow like me in such a practical way. He’s enabled me to ask difficult questions and think big.

A number of people under him have gone onto become scientific leaders in their own right.

What do you hope to achieve within the next two years?

We are on track to make some new discoveries on how the next generation of drugs specific to heart diseases such as myocarditis, can be treated.

Doing basic scientific research in the lab is often lonely, testing and doesn’t help your vitamin D levels!

However, for the many hours I spend trying to get the experiments to work, I often reflect on how this pales into insignificance compared to the feeling of hope we have for finally finding an effective treatment for myocarditis.

What do you miss most about England? What food do you miss the most?

I really miss watching Match of the Day and being spoilt for choice in Cambridge and London for food with a bit of flavour. Peshwari naan with saag paneer any day!