2022 Beck Fellow Zaid Mohammed discusses journey, research, future

Lamar University is proud to announce that Zaid Mohammed, sophomore biology major with a minor in chemistry and a concentration in pre-med, was awarded the David J. Beck Fellowship on Wednesday, March 2. The David J. Beck Fellowships rewards outstanding academic achievement and allows top students to further challenge themselves with unique opportunities for undergraduate research and Zaid Mohammedcreative study.

We sat down with Mohammed to discuss his journey, research and future as a 2022 Beck Fellow.

Q: What is your background? What brought you to Lamar University?
A: My family moved around a lot in my childhood. While moving around was not easy as a child, it taught me the valuable skill of adapting to a new situation. I have always been able to do this because I knew that no matter where we moved, my family always had my back. 

I attended Harmony Science Academy in Beaumont, Texas. In the summer of 2019, as a rising high school senior, I was accepted into Dr. Shannon Jordan’s Exercise Physiology Lab at Lamar University. This was my first exposure of research at Lamar University, and I really liked how hands-on, collaborative and stimulating it was. It was that experience which made me 100% certain Lamar University was the school for me, as I knew it was a good place to continue research, focus on my studies and grow as a person. At Lamar University, I believe I have the opportunity to do all of these things. The favorable teacher student ratio allows me to engage more with my professors. I have grown up in this community and it would be great to continue being a part of it and volunteering here. There are also fewer distractions being closer to home and this gives me more time to improve myself, from going to the gym more to studying more effectively to establishing new habits.

Q: Can you tell me about your experience at LU? How do you think your experiences will help you in the future?
A: In my first year at Lamar University, during the spring semester, I took the Honors College Stem Cell Research Seminar taught by Dr. Ian Lian. Dr. Lian led our foray into stem cell research and its revolutionary breakthroughs from bone marrow transplants to IVF. He mentioned that he, too, utilized stem cells in growing cancer culture in his cell biology laboratory. I asked him if I could learn from him and the upperclassman in his lab, and he graciously agreed. It’s because of the Honors College that I was able to get in touch with Dr. Lian from the seminar, and the Honors College Cadenza magazine also provided me with the opportunity to write an article about the seminar and stem cell research. 

On campus, I am involved in organizations such as Honors Students Association, American Medical Student Association, Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers and LU Ambassadors. This has allowed me to attend and help organize events such as healthcare panels, professional seminars and cultural festivals. Most importantly, these experiences have led me to meet some amazing fellow students and lifelong friends.
Through the Lamar University connection, I have been able to accumulate these leadership and research experiences, which have benefited me in my goal of pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. The Beck Fellowship is a monumental next step because it is a funded fellowship of such great prestige with a rich history of producing great research and clinical students.

Q: How did you find out about the David J. Beck Fellowship? What was the application process like?
A: Dr. Lian encouraged me to apply for the David J. Beck Fellowship in August. The application process included project descriptions, letters of recommendations and essays. After the application was submitted, an email was sent in February stating that I had been selected for an interview. Approximately one and a half weeks after my interview, I received an email stating that I was a recipient. 

Q: How did you find out the news that you were named a recipient?
A: It was just another weekend, and I was in my room studying for an upcoming exam when an email arrived in my inbox. The subject line had the words “Beck Fellowship” so I knew it would be important. I nervously clicked on it before reading the happy news and smiling in elation. My favorite moment was walking over to my parents and younger brother and having them read the email. They were incredibly excited and proud. 

Q: Tell me about your project. What are you most excited about? What do you think the biggest challenges will be?
A: One of the projects is related to renal clear cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer. This project involves using a neural network, or AI, to identify an unknown protein involved in the initiation of autophagy. There are more than 150 thousand proteins, but the AI will hunt and narrow down the most likely protein candidates. I would get in the lab and test if the protein suggested by the AI is present in the patient sample. If it is not present, then that data would be entered into the neural network, which would update and narrow down the candidates even more. 

The other project that I would be involved with would be using CRISPR tiling. CRISPR is a technology for editing genes. Genes carry the information to make proteins, which are responsible for our traits. So, by using CRISPR, we can modify the genome and potentially correct defects and prevent diseases. In this project, we are focusing on the protein known as APP and its relation to Alzheimer’s disease. This protein is commonly found in Alzheimer patients, but how it is regulated is not fully known. We will use CRISPR to test the effects on the physiology of the cell every time we shift one base pair in the genome. Learning the CRISPR protocol would be very beneficial, as it is a very new technology awarded the Nobel Prize in 2020 and can be used for examining a variety of diseases. 

Q: What are your plans for the future? What do you hope to gain from this experience?
A: With the support of Lamar University and Mr. Beck, I would be able to further challenge myself and have a summer of learning and personal growth. I can learn valuable skills and techniques, such as CRISPR and SILAC, as well as make important connections that can aid me in my future plans of pursuing an M.D./Ph.D program and becoming a doctor and researcher.