Herndon High School junior and ADAMS community member, Syed Shadman Hossain won the Alternate Grand Prize in the Medicine and Health Sciences category in the 2012 Fairfax County Regional Science and Engineering Fair for his project entitled, Cytotoxicity of TQ on Bacteria and Cancer Cells.
Hossain presented a project that originated as most scientific endeavors do, in a bout of curiosity.
While reading a book on prophetic medicine, Hossain became curious as to the medicinal value of the black seeds, a common alternative treatment used in the East but largely untested in the United States.
“I was actually reading a book called “The Prophet’s Medicine” and I found a hadith that said the black seeds have a cure to everything except death. That got me really interested,” he said.
As any budding scientist might, Hossain decided to put the black seed to the test and see if it was truly as effective as his book suggested.
After drafting a comprehensive proposal for his research, Hossain submitted his idea to researchers at the National Institute of Health (NIH) and awaited a response.
When a graduate student took interest in Hossain and his project, Hossain jumped at the opportunity to test his theories in the Institute’s prestigious laboratories.
Hossain tested the chemical found in black seeds on various bacteria. What he found was that in low concentrations, the chemical was able to stop the growth of the bacteria and in some cases kill the bacteria itself without harming healthy cells.
This finding lead Hossain to pursue a larger question. Can Thymoquinone work on cancerous cells?
Through in-vitro testing, testing performed within a test tube or petri dish, Hossain tested Thymoquinone on four different cancer cell lines including colon, lung, skin and prostate.
Testing the Thymoquinone in different concentrations on the cancer cells led Hossain to the discovery that 250 micrograms per milliliter was able to kill all four types of cancer.
Hossain decided to present his work in the NIH labs as a project for his high school science fair.
When he won alternate grand prize for his category he was surprised but humbled by the projects of his peers as well.
“I was pretty happy,” he said. “A lot of people had really good projects in engineering and physics and these were really novel ideas. There is one person who is getting his project patented.”
Hossain’s project is still in its infancy and while he’s received accolades for his work, he explained his findings with pause, saying that while they are promising, they are not definitive. His next stage is to test his finding on mice in an in vivo, testing done within a living organism, study to determine if they hold true.
“If it works in the mice it can be furthered and hopefully it can be established as an antibiotic or chemotherapeutic drug,” he said. “This is the really early stages of the research. A lot of testing is necessary.”
As for science education, Hossain hasn’t always been impressed by the opportunities available. However, he does believe that science fairs, like the one that he competed in, give young people the opportunity to expand their minds in new ways.
“They make people more competitive and make people want to do more rigorous research and do better and they are a gateway for people who have amazing ideas and want to get recognized,” said Hossain.
While religion and science are often put at odds, Hossain has found a connection between the two.
“You use the religious references and then test them scientifically and then make conclusions from there,” he said.
And he hopes to continue to use religious resources as starting points for his continued scientific endeavours.
“It opens up my optimism of religion as a background on research,” said Hossain.
Hossain hopes to continue his research on the medicinal value of Thymoquinone in black seeds.
While he wants to keep his career options open he thinks biomedical engineering might be a good path for him and his work.
Hossain will be presenting his project at the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament science fair as well as at the State Science Fair in the coming weeks.