We are excited to announce the 2016 Bee Foundation Research Grant Award recipient, Dr. Ahmed J. Awad. Dr. Awad is currently a post-doctoral associate researcher in the Department of Neurosurgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. We spoke with Dr. Awad to get to know more details about him and the pilot study being funded by the Bee Foundation grant.
The Bee Foundation (TBF): Tell us a little about yourself.
Dr. Ahmed J. Awad (AJA): I was born in Kansas, in the Midwest, then moved to Germany for a couple of years with the family, then moved again to Palestine in the Middle East where I continued my medical school and a bit of my post-graduate education. One year ago I joined the cerebrovascular laboratory at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine which is part of the Mt. Sinai Health System in New York City, in New York. I started focusing on intracranial research since then.
TBF: Why did you get involved in the field of brain aneurysm research?
AJA: At the beginning I started in cerebrovascular pathologies including brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, and other pathologies in the brain. However, brain aneurysm research is particularly interesting to me. This pathology affects approximately 3% of the population and unfortunately cases are discovered after the rupture of the aneurysm, where patients present with the worst headache of their lives and unfortunately almost 50% die after the rupture of an aneurysm. And the other 50% almost half of those have permanent neurological deficits and morbidity. So it is interesting to me to try to prevent this, and doing more research on this pathology will hopefully decrease the mortality and the morbidity.
TBF: The research you received the grant for, it’s Using Genetic Variants to Identify Molecular Pathways Leading to Intracranial Aneurysms Formation in Human: A Pilot Study.
AJA: Correct. My research project is a bioinformatics and computational genomics project and this uses the genetic variants in identifying the molecular pathways involved in the formation of the intracranial aneurysms in a human.
TBF: How will your research impact the landscape of preventative brain aneurysm research?
AJA: So the long term goal in all aneurysm research is to prevent the occurrence of the brain aneurysms and decrease the mortality. More specifically, we have two main goals in our research project. The first one is to identify the molecular pathways that are involved in the formation of the aneurysms, so we might develop a drug that can inhibit such pathways and prevent the formation of aneurysms. Our second goal is to develop a blood biomarker where we can screen people who are at risk of a brain aneurysm and the close family members of those patients with intracranial aneurysms.
TBF: So by identifying a biomarker to screen people, you would be able to identify before rupture if those people have a brain aneurysm?
AJA: Correct, yes this is the goal. A screening tool is our second goal. Developing the blood biomarkers using the genetic expression of the epigenetic of the brain aneurysms.
TBF: So the ideal outcomes – finding the molecular pathway involved in formation, and secondarily identifying that blood biomarker. Any other outcomes from the research you’re hoping for?
AJA: If we are talking about the long term, and if we get hopefully a successful outcome because this is a pilot study, we aim to conduct a larger study by applying to a NIH grant, and the ultimate goal is conducting a clinical trial.
TBF: Assuming a successful outcome from this research, what would be your next step to advance this research? Applying for the NIH grant?
AJA: Correct, because they support lots of clinical trials and that’s our ultimate goal to conduct a clinical trial. And by developing the drug we hope to have, after this pilot study, we will hopefully start a clinical trial that will work!
TBF: Will this research branch out into other areas (in terms of relating biomarkers with co-morbidities)
AJA: This is a good question. We go back to the first papers that were published about the genetic variants and genetic markers involved in the formation of the brain aneurysms, that was in 2008. And it found that the genes, especially in the cerebrovascular and the vessels of the brain they share some common pathologies or pathogenesis, so this would be something related with arteriovenous malformation and stroke, but in our study we are focusing on brain aneurysms.
TBF: Assuming a successful outcome and then applying for an NIH grant, what is the scope of a clinical trial compared to a pilot study? How much bigger would that be?
AJA: Just because this is a pilot study, we will be able to find not all of the molecular pathways and not all the genetic variants. This will give a good idea but not all the numbers or factors we are interested in. So after we have successful pilot study, this will give us some more results and more data that we can use for the larger studies and hopefully clinical trial, which is much larger.
TBF: How would you explain this research study to your friend who does not conduct clinical research?
AJA: As a friend of mine who is completely not related to the medical field – My research study involves using a computer based technique to study the formation of the brain aneurysm using the genetic level and finding the pathways that work for the formation of brain aneurysms.
TBF: How did you hear about The Bee Foundation and the research grant?
AJA: I heard about The Bee Foundation by searching for a foundation that supports brain aneurysm research. And through using social media and web search I noticed that The Bee Foundation has the largest funding for a single grant. And this is something we are interested in in order to support our study. And I applied for that grant and thankfully I got it!
TBF: Are you excited to speak and present your research at the 3rd Annual Honey Bash?
AJA: Sure, yes. I am planning to attend that meeting that will be in Philly and present my research proposal and preliminary data.
TBF: In 45 words or less, what message would you like the world to know about brain aneurysms?
AJA: Intracranial aneurysm is a cerebrovascular pathology that affects approximately 3% of the population. Unfortunately, most cases are discovered after the aneurysm ruptures and this pathology is associated with a high rate of morbidity and mortality. Our hope and long term goal is to prevent this and prevent the aneurysm even from forming; or inhibiting it before rupture.
TBF: What needs to be done to better educate primary care providers about the warning signs and risks of brain aneurysms?
AJA: Another good question. I believe primary care providers are aware of the signs and symptoms because it is part of our training in medical school and post-graduate education. We know the signs and the symptoms of the intracranial aneurysm rupture, which is generally the worst headache of the patient’s life, increased sensitivity to light, and neck stiffness. However, the important part is the patient – that he/she needs to be aware of these signs and symptoms and if they have or experience these signs and symptoms to immediately present to the closest emergency department.
TBF: How can people outside of the medical field can best support brain aneurysm awareness and research?
AJA: Similar to what you are doing! It is very important to educate other people by increasing awareness and doing more and more for those goals and fundraise for the foundations supporting intracranial aneurysms. If we do not have funding, we do not have research. So by having more interesting groups to fundraise for brain aneurysm research and awareness foundations like The Bee Foundation, this will increase the hope of preventing brain aneurysms.
Get your tickets to the 2016 Honey Bash to see Dr. Awad’s presentation.