Mount Sinai Fellow Salman E. Qasim, PhD, Awarded Prestigious Essay Prize From Lasker Foundation
His essay explores ethics in biomedical research
The Lasker Foundation announced today that Salman E. Qasim, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, is among five winners of its 10th annual Lasker Essay Contest.
The winning submissions were selected from hundreds of essays penned by biomedical graduate students and health professions trainees from 25 countries. Dr. Qasim’s essay, titled “The Human Brain: The Final Frontier, and the Wild West,” was published today in The Journal of Clinical Investigations and on the Lasker Foundation website.
Dr. Qasim’s essay peers honestly into the thought process of a scientist performing intracranial research, watching human brain activity as it is recorded directly from the amygdala, the frontal cortex, and the hippocampus. As he admires the beauty of these neurons and brain waves in real time, he also takes note of the human in front of him, who had started to perspire with effort from the behavioral experiments she had consented to perform. Were the two of them pushing too hard?
The Lasker Essay Contest engages early-career scientists and clinicians globally in a discussion about big questions in biology and medicine and the role of biomedical research in our society today. This year, the Foundation asked applicants to explore unanticipated ethical issues they encountered in their training.
“This question elicited a true reflection in me, which made winning this award feel especially good. I wrote it in one passionate burst, late at night, and the thoughts poured out of me,” says Dr. Qasim.
Dr. Qasim completed his PhD in Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University. As a postdoctoral researcher at Mount Sinai’s Center for Computational Psychiatry and Department of Neuroscience, his current work focuses on understanding why certain events stand out in our memory more than others. This is important, he explains, for understanding human memory in general, but is especially applicable to disorders that feature selective memory loss, such as Alzheimer’s disease, or biased memory, as in certain psychiatric disorders.
“I have been very lucky to have the rare opportunity to work extensively with direct brain recordings from human research participants. Writing this essay provided me the space to reflect on my research participants’ lived experience outside of the boundaries of the experiments they perform, or the data they provide. As human neuroscience research rapidly enters a new frontier of neurosurgical implantation, recording, and stimulation, it is critical that we try to think of new ways to center the holistic human experience of our research participants,” says Dr. Qasim.
“Salman’s essay reflects the importance of ethics in research involving human subjects. It also speaks honestly to the intricacies in the daily lives of a scientist—how one navigates scientific goals and ethical standards against personal feelings as a human being,” says Xiaosi Gu, PhD, Associate Professor, Psychiatry, at Icahn Mount Sinai. Dr. Gu runs the Gu Lab, which explores computational psychiatry, an emerging field that leverages new computational models to track changes in brain function to better understand psychiatric disease. Dr. Gu is one of two mentors to Dr. Qasim.
“Salman is a great example of a new wave of scientists cleverly taking advantage of the unique opportunity presented by neurosurgical interventions to gain new insights into human brain function. His essay speaks clearly about the challenges and opportunities involved in this type of research, and about how deeply he thinks about patients’ well-being and pressing associated ethical issues,” says Ignacio Saez, PhD, Assistant Professor, Neuroscience, Neurosurgery, and Neurology, Icahn Mount Sinai, who is Dr. Qasim’s other mentor. Dr. Saez leads the Human Neurophysiology Laboratory at Mount Sinai, which specializes in studying the neurobiological basis of human cognition and disease leveraging surgical intracranial interventions.
The 2023 Lasker Foundation Essay Contest winners highlights submissions by students at Cornell University, University at Oxford, Exeter College, University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, and Harvard Medical School/Mass General Hospital/Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.
“Researchers encounter a wide range of challenging ethical issues in their work,” said Claire Pomeroy, MD, MBA, President of the Lasker Foundation. “This year’s five winning essayists describe ethical quandaries they faced during their training and engagingly communicate the rationales for their responses. At the Lasker Foundation, we celebrate their capacity for clear and persuasive communication, helping to assure us all that the future of biomedical research is in thoughtful hands.”
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