In order to progress with a career in chemistry, it’s essential that chemical scientists have the right support. Mussa Quareshy, a Senior Scientist at Sygnature Discovery, has made the most of the help on offer from the Royal Society of Chemistry, allowing him to succeed in his drug discovery research and expand his horizons.
“I was a very curious child and I had this interest in how medicines were made and how they work,” says Mussa. “I grew up in Malawi, Africa, so I got to see a lot of the tropical diseases that you don’t see over here in the UK - Malaria, HIV, TB. We lived among them. Luckily we had good medical care but not everybody did. And it got me thinking, why can’t everybody have access to this treatment? I was inspired to become a chemist and discover new cures myself.”
Mussa and his family moved over to the UK when he was 17 and since then he has pursued his dream, completing an MChem degree at the University of Leicester, where he first discovered the Royal Society of Chemistry. During his studies Mussa took a one year industrial placement at GlaxoSmithKline, which he secured after a competitive application process with support from the RSC early careers support service.
It was the first time I needed a professional CV and the RSC team really helped me get it up to scratch. Their feedback was so useful, it was specific and tailored for me. They have a lot of experience in what is a very niche sector.
“The placement itself was certainly character building, however I did enjoy it! The GSK team was brilliant, I had all the resources I could have asked for. During that time I got to see what it takes to work in drug discovery and I realised that a PhD would be an enabler in terms of progressing my career.”
After graduating, Mussa found a PhD doctoral training program at Warwick to deliver innovative life sciences research and has stayed on for his post doc. During his time at university, Mussa has taken full advantage of his RSC membership, receiving a helping hand to attend important conferences and events.
“One of the great benefits of an RSC membership is discounted entry to certain conferences and seminars. During my PhD I had a limited budget so that was really helpful. It was often a deciding factor as to whether to go to a conference or not.
“I also applied for a few travel grants, which were crucial. At the end of my PhD I applied to attend a prestigious conference in Toronto to present my findings and was lucky enough to receive a grant of £800 from the RSC to pay for the flights. As a result, I got to meet a lot of people I had previously only interacted with over email and to share my research with them. It was so great to meet them in person and foster collaboration.
“I used another RSC grant during my postdoc to go to a Gordon Research conference in Boston, Massachusetts to learn how to do a technique called EPR (Electron Paramagnetic Resonance), which has been integral to my postdoc research.”
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Mussa’s current research in the group of Professor Yin Chen is focused on studying bacteria from the human gut microbiome that breakdown quaternary amine molecules implicated in human diseases and linked to finding a cure for a debilitating condition called Trimethylaminuria, also known as Fish Odour Syndrome.
“We’re particularly looking into a quaternary amine dietary intake molecule called L-carnitine, which is found in dairy, fish and meat. When bacteria break down L-carnitine a by-product called Trimethylamine (TMA) is produced, which has a fishy odour. In the large majority of people TMA is metabolised by the liver into a non-smelly product called Trimethylamine oxide (TMAO). But some people can’t metabolize TMA, so it builds up and is excreted through sweat and is very smelly. High levels of TMAO have been linked to the prevalence of cardiovascular and renal diseases and therefore inhibiting TMA formation altogether will further this research on multiple fronts.
My research has identified an enzyme from a particular bacteria that does the transformation of L-carnitine to TMA. In solving its 3D protein crystal structure, we now have a good idea of how the carnitine is perceived by the enzyme and how it can be broken up. We’ve also found some molecules that can inhibit this progress. The work we’re doing is only one part of the puzzle but we have made good progress.
Sadly, during the coronavirus pandemic Mussa hasn’t been able to work in the lab, but he has been experimenting in the kitchen instead, getting creative with new recipes. He has also used the time to explore where he might go next in his career.
“My current role is coming to an end, so I need to figure out what to do next. I’ve put in an application for an independent research fellowship to build on our current research. But if I don’t go down that road, the alternative is applying for an industrial position in research and development.
“Last week I had a really useful one-on-one consultation with the RSC to understand where I am and where I want to go. It was tremendously helpful in that I could speak to someone directly and plan what I want to do. They are encouraging me to follow up with them, it’s not just a one off. I know my relationship with the RSC will continue to grow throughout my career. You know they’re there when you need them.”