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Egypt in Venice with bird on shoulder

Name: Ashraf N. Abdo, PhD
Current title: Postdoctoral researcher.
BCBP Lab: Sancar Lab
Years affiliated with BCBP: 2022 – present
Research specialties: Circadian Rhythm and DNA Repair

Sancar lab by the Bell Tower on UNC campus in 2022
Sancar lab by the UNC Bell Tower.

What projects are you currently working on? 

I am currently working on testing chronotherapy concepts using various tumor and circadian models. We recently showed that endogenous tumors not only have robust molecular circadian clocks but also have uniquely oscillating genes can lay a foundation for further testing of chrono-chemotherapeutic agents for better efficacy and less toxicity.

What was your background before coming to BCBP?

Ashraf Abdo PhD
Ashraf Abdo PhD

I had my bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and biotechnology from the German University in Cairo. As most pharmacy graduates, the “naïve” dream is to find a drug that treats some disease. Around that time of graduating, I thought I have found my passion in Neuroscience. I landed an internship at Rockefeller University in neurobiology and behavior lab in New York City. I loved it and decided that I need to study neuroscience a bit deeper.

I did both my master’s and PhD degrees in medical neurosciences at Charité medical university in Berlin, Germany. My master’s thesis focused on testing an epigenetic modulating compound in a cell culture as well as a mouse model of Huntington’s disease. Additionally, I studied autophagy at Leibniz-research institute for molecular pharmacology. I was lucky to get exposed to many topics as well as get to learn many techniques, But I was still missing the molecular genetics experience.

 Ashraf in Egypt by statues

During my master’s studies, I have read a book about sleep and dreams. One week later, we took couple of lectures on sleep and circadian rhythms and how circadian rhythms was controlled by molecular clocks, that was right before the Nobel prize in physiology was awarded to discovery of molecular mechanisms controlling circadian clocks. I wanted to be introduced to molecular genetics through this interesting topic. I did a lab rotation on this topic as a part of my fellowship “Einstein center for Neurosciences fellowship” and I was hooked. During my PhD, I studied CLOCK gene, where I have created around 100 cell lines harboring different mutations to better understand CLOCK protein interactions and how it affects the 24-hour period.

What motivates you to do what you do?

Ashraf Abdo PhD Postdoctoral researcher in the Sancar LabThere are two main routes of motivation that I get, first is the science itself and the second is through the people who I am surrounded with. I am motivated mainly by the projects that I get to work on. I always was lucky to have the chance to test drugs in different mouse models and try to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning certain diseases, disorders or even just the normal physiology and the idea of understanding something deeper excites me. That said, working with naturally motivated people, in the lab is extremely rewarding.

What have been some of your best experiences with BCBP?

I think the whole experience of working at UNC and in BCBP is one of my best experiences generally. Especially, the chance to get to work with Professor Aziz Sancar. Also, I think one of the best experiences is working with the people in the lab. I feel fortunate enough to work with them on different projects and see their perspectives on science and beyond.

Ashraf in Egypt

Do you have any advice for current or future trainees at BCBP?

You are going to be surrounded with top tier scientists from so many different fields, having different backgrounds and working in so many projects/topics. Find collaborations, science not meant to be done in vacuum. Be like a sponge, soak experiences but filter at the same time.

Patience is a virtue. I had a friend whose motto was “slowly but persistent”, never found a better advice especially during times of frustration.

by the sea in Egypt
A view of the sea. Damietta, Egypt.

What are your favorite activities outside of the lab? 

I love the sea, I can just sit there for hours. Here is a photo from “Damietta” my home town in Egypt.

I am also into learning new instruments. Recently, I started learning Nay, which is a pharaonic instrument like the flute. It sounds beautiful! especially if I am NOT playing it. I am interested in science communication. I was a part of Berlin Science talks, we used to organize events for public where scientists explain their research in simple terms. I love teaching as well, especially for kids. I was a volunteer teacher in Back on Track initiative, to help refugee kids to catch up with what they have missed during their relocation. I try to find rewarding activates outside the lab. I’m open to suggestions.