Dr. Khaled Abdelrahman grew up surrounded by science. Since his parents were both marine biologists, he developed a passion for science at a young age.
“I used to go with my parents to the lab and see all kinds of research,” he recalls. “It was a completely different kind of research than what I’m doing now, but seeing them perform experiments and witnessing their excitement when they obtained results was intriguing.”
During high school, Dr. Abdelrahman discovered his interest for chemistry and biology, which eventually led him to pursue a degree in pharmacy at Alexandria University.
“I was interested in understanding how drugs were designed, their mechanisms of action, and possible side effects,” says Dr. Abdelrahman on his decision to pursue a research career in pharmacology. “I wanted to continue exploring how drugs are designed, understanding how they work at the molecular level and advancing the drug discovery process.”
Currently an Assistant Professor in UBC’s Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Dr. Abdelrahman is also a licensed pharmacist with over 11 years of experience in direct patient care.
“Having clinical commitments as a pharmacist only fuels my passion for research,” he says. “Every time I dispense medications, I encounter drugs that are not really effective for some of my patients or have major side effects. It makes me wonder – why does this happen and how can things be improved? These experiences have reinforced my appreciation for research and the importance of advancing drug discovery.”
His research focus revolves around a unique class of receptors called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs).
“Out of the medications I dispense, I found that at least 35% of them act on this family of receptors,” he says. This discovery prompted his decision to concentrate his research efforts on GPCRs.
During his postdoctoral studies, Dr. Abdelrahman investigated the metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5), a subtype within the GPCR family. His work focused on demonstrating the crucial role of this receptor in the progression of Alzheimer, Huntington and Parkinson disease.
Building upon this foundation, his future research will explore a different perspective. While the mGluR5 is present in neurons and plays a role in cognitive function, he intends to examine how it can indirectly regulate blood flow to the brain.
“Neurons require a proper supply of nutrients and oxygen, which is maintained through adequate blood supply,” he explains. “Alzheimer disease patients often exhibit impaired control of blood flow to the brain. By addressing this issue, we might be able to alleviate the burden of Alzheimer’s and its cognitive decline.”
The implications of his research extend beyond Alzheimer disease and can potentially benefit individuals with other brain disorders.
“Understanding the role of this receptor in blood flow control could help tackle various problems associated with disrupted blood flow in the brain,” notes Dr. Abdelrahman. His research aims to identify ways to pharmacologically target this receptor, thereby correcting blood flow and mitigating cognitive impairment and memory decline in patients.
With Canada’s aging population, age-related neurodegenerative diseases are becoming more prevalent. The most common disease is Alzheimer’s and the burden on the healthcare system that comes from patients’ medications and caregivers is growing rapidly.
While there are some medications in the market for the treatment Alzheimer’s, they only manage the symptoms. Dr. Abdelrahman hopes to contribute to the development of effective treatments that can also slow the progression of the disease.
“I hope that with new collaborations with scientists at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, we will be able to boost the translational impact of the research that we do and hopefully advance research in the area for new drugs that can treat various brain disorders and therefore improve the quality of life of patients.”
Outside of setting up his lab, Dr. Abdelrahman has been enjoying Vancouver’s natural beauty.
“The UBC campus is beautiful and everything is easily accessible. Since moving to Vancouver, I’ve really enjoyed spending time outdoors, playing with my daughter – there’s lots of green space so we can go play soccer or go biking.”
When it comes to advice for aspiring researchers, Dr. Abdelrahman stresses the importance of perseverance and curiosity.
“Research is not always straightforward. There will be challenges and setbacks along the way,” he cautions. “But if you’re genuinely passionate and driven by curiosity, these obstacles will only make you more determined. Seek guidance from mentors, collaborate with other researchers and don’t hesitate to ask questions.”
Dr. Abdelrahman also encourages aspiring researchers to remain open-minded about their career paths.
“Sometimes, the path you envisioned may shift, and that’s okay,” he reassures. “Keep an open mind and be flexible. Success can be achieved in various ways, whether in academia or outside. As long as you’re passionate about what you do and constantly seeking knowledge, you’ll find fulfillment in your career.”