1. Epigenetic Inheritance of Early Life Trauma
This project lies at the intriguing interface of neuroscience, epigenetics, metabolism, and involves extensive work in immortalized cell lines, stem cells, mice, and human cohorts. The project capitalizes on a mouse model of early life trauma established in the lab of Prof. Isabelle Mansuy (Ali’s PhD and post-doc supervisor), which shows a remarkable transmission of neuropsychiatric and metabolic perturbations in the offspring, grand offspring, and great grand offspring of mice exposed to trauma early in life. Ali’s work has now established that molecular changes that suggest a similar transmission of symptoms and disease susceptibility in the offspring of individuals exposed to early life trauma exist in humans. The project involves collaborations with The SOS Childrens’ Villages, Pakistan and Chughtai Labs (Pvt) Limited.
Here is a BBC story citing the pioneering work about transgenerational transmission of trauma, including an interview with Prof. Isabelle Mansuy.
2. MicroRNAs and Brain Phosphatases in Memory Disorders
Ali’s pioneering work identified a particular cluster of regulatory chemicals called microRNAs in the brain that are important for formation of accurate and strong long-term memories and that the production of these microRNAs is affected in some forms of dementia. Remarkably, replenishing these microRNAs through direct injection in the brains, manipulating the brain phosphatases that control their production, or increasing their amount to a limited extent through certain brain stimulation exercises known as environment enrichment can reverse dementia in early stages. Ali’s ongoing work is looking into the efficacy of a combination of some natural products that can increase these microRNAs and environment enrichment in the treatment of dementias. The molecular findings of this project are excellently summarized in this video clip by Pakistan Insider.
3. Virtual Reality-Based Training for Neuropsychiatric Disorders (BRAINALITY)
This project is a brain child of Ali and his very good friend and brilliant computer scientists Dr. Suleman Shahid. Stemming from the basic science research that environment enrichment is able to prevent and reverse dementia in mild to moderate stages, this project has incorporated different principles of cognitive enhancement, such as multi-modality stimulation, contextual learning, operant conditioning etc. in a virtual reality (VR) environment. Through VR-based environment enrichment, patients suffering from dementia, but also stress, depression, and other neuropsychiatric ailments have shown remarkable improvement in their cognitive functioning and well-being.
Would like to see how much fun and tacky these VR-based environment enrichment sessions are? click here.
4. Metabolism-based Strategies for Treatment of Neurodegenerative Disorders
This project capitalizes on a number of anti-dogmatic discoveries made by Ali during his studentship and fellowship with Prof. Paul Schulz at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, US and later at University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston. Through a number of rigorous clinical studies, Jawaid et al. showed that a conventionally ‘risky’ metabolic profile, such as having diabetes mellitus type 2, obesity, or dyslipidemia slows down the clinical progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The findings have been validated in independent studies and Jawaid-Schulz have written a number of expert reviews and editorials on the topic. You can find the most recent and the most elaborate one over here.
5. Enhancing Resilience after Traumatic Events Through Neuroscientific Approaches
This project is in its pioneering stages and capitalizes on the intriguing findings Ali acquired while working on different trauma exposed populations (children from the SOS village, adults who were retrospectively screened for early life adversity through childhood trauma questionnaire, and veterans exposed to combat trauma). Although each of these cohorts has individuals that were unfortunately exposed to severe and/or chronic traumas, only some developed post-traumatic stress disorder or other persuasive neurobehavioral disorders. Remarkably, those who did not develop long-term complications after trauma seem to have specific neuropsychological and molecular profiles, which raises the possibility that ‘resilience’ can be trained or induced through environmental factors (such as diet etc.). In this project, Ali and collaborators are using a multi-modality approach based on mindfulness, sequential contraction and relaxation of muscles, and dietary supplements to enhance resilience in individuals who are exposed to traumatic events to prevent the development of long-term complications and to dissuade unhealthy stress-coping mechanisms. The Red thread is the non-academic front of this project.