• Press Release

Mount Sinai Fellow Salman E. Qasim, PhD, Awarded Prestigious Essay Prize From Lasker Foundation

His essay explores ethics in biomedical research

  • New York, NY
  • (July 18, 2023)

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.”

About the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is internationally renowned for its outstanding research, educational, and clinical care programs. It is the sole academic partner for the

eight member hospitals* of the Mount Sinai Health System, one of the largest academic health systems in the United States, providing care to a large and diverse patient population. 

Ranked No. 14 nationwide in National Institutes of Health funding and in the 99th percentile in research dollars per investigator according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Icahn Mount Sinai has a talented, productive, and successful faculty. More than 3,000 full-time scientists, educators, and clinicians work within and across 34 academic departments and 44 multidisciplinary institutes, a structure that facilitates tremendous collaboration and synergy. Our emphasis on translational research and therapeutics is evident in such diverse areas as genomics/big data, virology, neuroscience, cardiology, geriatrics, and gastrointestinal and liver diseases.

Icahn Mount Sinai offers highly competitive MD, PhD, and master’s degree programs, with current enrollment of approximately 1,300 students. It has the largest graduate medical education program in the country, with more than 2,600 clinical residents and fellows training throughout the Health System. In addition, more than 535 postdoctoral research fellows are in training within the Health System.

A culture of innovation and discovery permeates every Icahn Mount Sinai program. Mount Sinai’s technology transfer office, one of the largest in the country, partners with faculty and trainees to pursue optimal commercialization of intellectual property to ensure that Mount Sinai discoveries and innovations translate into health care products and services that benefit the public.

Icahn Mount Sinai’s commitment to breakthrough science and clinical care is enhanced by academic affiliations that supplement and complement the School’s programs. Through Mount Sinai Innovation Partners (MSIP), the Health System facilitates the real-world application and commercialization of medical breakthroughs made at Mount Sinai. Additionally, MSIP develops research partnerships with industry leaders such as Merck & Co., AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, and others.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is located in New York City on the border between the Upper East Side and East Harlem, and classroom teaching takes place on a campus facing Central Park. Icahn Mount Sinai’s location offers many opportunities to interact with and care for diverse communities. Learning extends well beyond the borders of our physical campus, to the eight hospitals of the Mount Sinai Health System, our academic affiliates, and globally.

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* Mount Sinai Health System member hospitals: The Mount Sinai Hospital; Mount Sinai Beth Israel; Mount Sinai Brooklyn; Mount Sinai Morningside; Mount Sinai Queens; Mount Sinai South Nassau; Mount Sinai West; and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai.

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About the Mount Sinai Health System

Mount Sinai Health System is one of the largest academic medical systems in the New York metro area, with 48,000 employees working across eight hospitals, more than 400 outpatient practices, more than 600 research and clinical labs, a school of nursing, and a leading school of medicine and graduate education. Mount Sinai advances health for all people, everywhere, by taking on the most complex health care challenges of our time—discovering and applying new scientific learning and knowledge; developing safer, more effective treatments; educating the next generation of medical leaders and innovators; and supporting local communities by delivering high-quality care to all who need it.

Through the integration of its hospitals, labs, and schools, Mount Sinai offers comprehensive health care solutions from birth through geriatrics, leveraging innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence and informatics while keeping patients’ medical and emotional needs at the center of all treatment. The Health System includes approximately 9,000 primary and specialty care physicians and 11 free-standing joint-venture centers throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida. Hospitals within the System are consistently ranked by Newsweek’s® “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals, Best in State Hospitals, World Best Hospitals and Best Specialty Hospitals” and by U.S. News & World Report's® “Best Hospitals” and “Best Children’s Hospitals.” The Mount Sinai Hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report® “Best Hospitals” Honor Roll for 2023-2024.

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