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Breakthrough in immunology research

SOWMIYA ASHOK

Dr. Hakkim is now working on identifying new drugs and therapies for various ailments.



OUTSTANDING:Dr. R. Abdul Hakkim

From Coonor to Harvard, Dr. R. Abdul Hakkim has worked and researched in many cities and published his findings in leading scientific journals. Recently, he was awarded the Peter-Hans Hofschneider Prize for Molecular Medicine at the 62nd general meeting of the Max-Planck Society in Germany.

Dr. Hakkim was awarded for his outstanding scientific achievements in the field of immunology during his Ph.D at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. Yet, his unassuming nature comes across even over the phone from America as he tries to deconstruct his relationship with science for the lay person.

“Basically, there were three breakthroughs,” explains Mr. Hakkim. “The first one involved a genetic problem in an 8-year-old child. We conducted gene therapy by taking the missing gene and giving it to the child through bone marrow transplantation,” he says. The patient after the therapy recovered steadily.

He then explains how white blood cells fight bacteria in wounds using ‘fishing net'-like structures called neutrophil extracellular traps. “Our second breakthrough was in linking these net-like structures with autoimmune diseases where the body's immune system attacks itself, like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE),” says Dr. Hakkim.

In a healthy person, an enzyme called DNase chops off these nets but in a patient with SLE the nets start to collect. “We worked with 150 patients out of whom 40 per cent of patients had trouble with these nets,” he says. This discovery was published in the PNAS journal and the new diagnosis was patented.

“The last discovery was quite laborious. To find small drugs to cure SLE patients, we conducted a chemical screening and looked at millions of compounds to see which one blocks these nets,” he explains. The findings from this research were published in Nature Chemical Biology.

Hailing from Coonoor, Dr. Hakkim did his schooling in Stanes before completing his graduate studies in Microbiology at PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore. He then spent a few years doing a fellowship in The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, under leading professors before moving on to do his Ph.D in Berlin. Dr. Hakkim is now completing his post-doctoral research in Harvard University, involved in identifying new drugs and therapies for various ailments.

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