Faisal Ahmad: Research Fellow, Department of Otolaryngology
Faisal Ahmad is no stranger to basic science research projects. As a UNC biochemistry major working in the laboratory of Susan Lord, he sought to understand how Factor XIII interacts with a known variant of of fibrinogen to affects its kinetics and ultimate role in blood coagulation. In between his first and second years of medical school, Faisal worked on an ophthalmology project investigating the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and reactive oxygen species in choroidal endothelial cells. Now, he is spending a year between his third and fourth years working with UNC Otolaryngology researchers Dr. Douglas Fitzpatrick and Dr. Oliver Adunka to develop an apparatus for assessing the viability of cochlear hair cells at the time of surgery for cochlear implantation.
His research group utilizes an animal model of presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) in trying to develop a device that will receive a reliable signal from a cochlear electrode used to determine the threshold between hair cells that are viable and those that are responsible for hearing loss. Since current methods of signal capture from such an electrode are sensitive to both acoustical and electrical noise, the method Faisal is helping to develop could allow ENT surgeons to perform cochlear implantation more precisely.
Though he is enjoying his research experience, Faisal admits there have been many challenges to overcome. His current project, he says, would have been easier had he a background in physics or computer programming. It has also been a struggle to develop a repeatable protocol that will yield consistent results – something critical to the success of such a project. Nevertheless, his project has given him familiarity with much of the equipment used in cochlear implantation, something he plans to use in a career as an otolaryngologist.
Faisal hopes to continue to incorporate research into his medical career, though he may tend towards clinical research projects in the future. For those aspiring to do research during medical school, Faisal would encourage students to find a project or laboratory that will teach them new techniques or modes of inquiry. Above all, he thinks students should take time to explore mentors and research projects broadly, as there truly is a wealth of research opportunities at UNC.
By Byron Huff