Faculty Snapshot: Ishmail Abdus-Saboor

Three photos of Ishmail Abdus-Saboor, two are of him alone, and one has him with three students in the lab.

Tell us about your work.
One biological question that deeply fascinates me is how the nervous system tells the difference between pain and a soft gentle caress. I also wonder how this code changes when people develop chronic pain and touch hurts, or in some individuals with autism who experience negative feelings when they are touched. To address this question we use an interdisciplinary strategy combining animal behavior, molecular biology, and neuroscience to uncover genes and pathways for pain and touch – from skin to brain.

What are you looking forward to right now? What are you most excited about?
This is a hard question because there are so many exciting projects underway in my lab now. One of particular excitement is our new endeavor studying the east African naked mole-rat. These animals don’t respond to many painful stimuli, don’t get cancer, don’t age, and they live in large social communities like bees and ants. We want to understand how the brain controls some of these extraordinary capacities of these animals. Animals that lie at the extremes of biological specialization, like the naked mole-rat, offer an opportunity to uncover novel solutions to solving problems that evolution has randomly stumbled upon.

Tell us about a book that you have read recently and would recommend.
I recently finished the first full-length biography about the Nobel-Prize winning molecular biologist, Salvador Luria. Luria led a storied, but challenging life, fleeing his homeland as an Italian Jew during the heinous Nazi regime. He landed in America and not only was his ascent into the pantheon of great molecular biologists rather epic, but what also struck me was his long-standing fight for social justice, an end to wars, and racial and gender equality. He actually fought university presidents on the lack of Black faculty. I was deeply inspired by both his scientific achievements studying bacteriophages and his passion to make the world a better place.

To learn more about Dr. Abdus-Saboor's work, please visit his faculty website or follow him on Twitter.