Q&A with the new executive director of graduate programs

Salah-uddin Ahmed
Salah-uddin Ahmed was recently named the executive director of graduate programs at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Salah-uddin Ahmed has been named the new executive director of graduate programs at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CPPS). In his new position, will provide oversight and vision for the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Molecular Medicine graduate program at the college.

Ahmed has taught in the graduate program since he first joined the college in April of 2014 first as an associate professor and now as a full professor with tenure. In addition to his new role, Ahmed will continue to teach in courses focused on topics varying from the fundamentals of molecular and cellular mechanisms in diseases and toxicological studies to drug discovery and development.

The college recently caught up with Ahmed to learn more about him and his new role:

What will you be doing in your new role? What are your top priorities?
My passion for training graduate students in my lab landed me in this new role. In my role as the executive director of graduate programs, I will be working towards the overall improvement of our pharmaceutical sciences and molecular medicine graduate program. Our graduate students, graduate faculty mentors and the policies governing this program are essential components that need attention. For graduate students, we want to initiate programs for personal and professional developments that will prepare them for postdoctoral opportunities in industry and academia. For graduate faculty, we plan to introduce workshops or training on effective mentoring and developing leadership skills.

I want to provide more opportunities to our graduate students for their professional and personal training so that they are well-prepared to transition successfully to the next level in their career, whether it be industry or academia.

What is your current research focus?
My research lab is studying the role of inflammatory proteins called cytokines and chemokines in the pathogenesis of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and osteoarthritis. Using cells derived from tissues donated by these patients, we study how these cells contribute to inflammation and joint destruction observed in these diseases. These findings will lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets that could further be tested in clinical settings in order to develop safer and cost-effective therapies.

What first sparked your interest in the sciences?
After I completed my Master in Toxicology, I learned that some medications prescribed for different ailments are one of the major causes of toxicities reported in population. That is where I got interested in research in the area of nutrition and chemoprevention. This further evolved into my current research interests of understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of disease pathogenesis and identifying novel targeted therapeutics in the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases.

What made you interested in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases in particular?
I am fascinated by how immune system serves as body’s defense to external infections or physical injuries. On a contrary note, sometimes without any external cause, the same immune system gets activated and starts attacking one’s own body part, a phenomenon called ‘autoimmune response’ by mistake leading to diseases that could commonly be termed as ‘autoimmune diseases.’ If the immune system attacks joints in the body, it leads to a disease called rheumatoid arthritis; if it attacks brain, then it leads to multiple sclerosis; or if it attacks pancreas, it is termed as ‘Type 1 diabetes.’ All these autoimmune diseases have common underlying miscommunication within our immune system. My research interest in this area is to understand how immune system attacks local cells that form the tissue/organ (in our case, synovium in the joints of rheumatoid arthritis patients) and what we can learn from the inflammatory response these cells generate so that we can develop more targeted and safer therapeutics in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these findings could potentially be applied to other autoimmune diseases that develop by the similar pathogenic mechanism.

What do you like to do in your free time?
In my free time, I usually prefer to travel with family to national parks, beaches, and lakes. I also try my hands on cooking Indian recipes (it looks like I am improving). I find it to be a good de-stresser.

What drew you to the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences?
I was impressed by the mission of the college and team that was built around that mission. I saw opportunity to succeed and contribute to the success of others in the college. In addition, I just fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and wanted to spend my professional years here.

What is the best advice you ever received and why did it impact you?
The best advice I received from my mentors is to do science that is impactful, has application, and provides direction for future research. It changed my perspective on how I pursued my research and interpreted my findings as a young scientist that would allow me to get funding to an overarching career goal of fulfillment and purpose. Since then, I have taken incremental steps towards those goals.

What is your favorite thing about Washington State University (WSU)?
The collegial environment and dedicated graduate students, and the impact WSU has on our region makes me feel good.

What are you most looking forward to about the fall semester?
I am looking forward to the in-person classes and training of students in all professional courses on campus. Our graduate program team is also actively working to make personal and professional life of graduate students on campus pleasant.