Manchester researcher wins Libyan award

May 30, 2007

Abdul Gbaj, who is researching the pharmaceutical aspects of genetic and tumour sciences at the University's School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, received his award from the Libyan Minister of Higher Education, Dr Akeel Hussain Akeel.

"When he told me I had won this award, I was very proud. There are 5,000 Libyan Masters and PhD students across the globe, 1,600 of them in the UK," Abdul said.

"I was very lucky to come to Manchester. I have worked with many good people, very strong people, such as my supervisor Professor Ken Douglas and Dr Phil Edwards, an ex senior scientist from Astra Zeneca."

Professor Kenneth Douglas has also been commended for his role as Abdul's supervisor and for his guidance of other Libyan postgraduates over the years.

Abdul's research is in Professor Douglas' laboratory, which takes a multidisciplinary approach to the rational development of new drug leads, primarily in the fields of cancer and anti-parasitics, and in the application of modern medicinal chemistry approaches to the rational basis of novel molecular diagnostics. The environment makes a fully integrated, multidisciplinary approach to biomedicinal problems possible.

One of Abdul's studies deals with the synthesis and evaluation of anticancer drugs. There are many clinically approved anticancer drugs, and new anticancer drugs in various stages of preclinical and clinical development. These drugs embody a diverse array of chemical structures, so a series of novel compounds was designed and synthesised to probe the active site constraints of the angiogenic enzyme, thymidine phosphorylase (TP). In work carried out in collaboration with Drs Sally Freeman and Mohammed Jaffar in the School of Pharmacy, Abdul showed that some novel compounds displayed good binding with human TP with an inhibition in the low nanomolar range.

Another study involves the detection of DNA mutations by a new type of technology. DNA detection is important in molecular biology because in many areas, including gene mapping, identification of mutations correlated with inherited or somatic genetic diseases, clinical diagnostics, studies of chromosome and nuclear architecture and identification of viruses and microorganisms within natural and forensic environments. Numerous genetic diseases have been found to be the result of a change of a single base pair in DNA. These single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) may cause changes in the amino acid sequence of important proteins. Methods sensitive to single base-pair mutations for the fast screening of patient samples to identify disease-causing mutations will be essential in their diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Professor Douglas and Dr Elena Bichenkova recently invented and patented a new approach to fluorescent detection of such DNA changes. Abdul, in his PhD studies, has further developed this Exciplex technology for detection of DNA mutation.

Abdul has published more than 30 papers and his work has significantly contributed to a laboratory specialising in computational modelling, novel ligand design and synthesis, enzymology, fast reaction techniques, DNA and RNA chemistry and high-field NMR spectroscopy of novel DNA structures and of DNA ligand complexes. The laboratory, funded by the Wellcome Trust, BBSRC and the Wolfson Foundation, is part of the new Wolfson Centre for the Rational Structure-Based Design of Molecular Diagnostics.

Professor Douglas said: "It is always a pleasure to help research students make their way through the various stages of scientific development that are required during a PhD degree. Abdul has worked hard and successfully and looks to have the potential for an excellent scientific career."

Abdul said: "I have really enjoyed working at Manchester, it has taken me very far and I am proud of what I have achieved. I am especially grateful for the care that the postdoctoral members of the group have taken to help my training, particularly Drs Laura Etchells and Lindsey Walsh. In the future I plan to return home to continue my research and apply my knowledge in the best way."

Abdul said that he would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge his country for offering him a chance to study abroad and to Dr Akeel Hussain Akeel for his marvelous support.
For more information or to arrange an interview or photo opportunity with Abdul Gbaj, please contact Media Relations Officer Mikaela Sitford on 0161 275 2111.

Editor's Note: The School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is dedicated to excellence and innovation in research and teaching. It achieved the top score of 5*in the latest Research Assessment Exercise in 2001 and its teaching was awarded the maximum possible score of 24 points for its undergraduate programme by an independent, nationally appointed subject review panel. The School is also consistently ranked as one of the best in the country by the newspaper league tables. Research groups within the School undertake research under three strategic themes: Drug Design and Action, Drug Delivery and Pharmacokinetics and Drug Usage and Pharmacy Practice. The web site of the School is

University of Manchester

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