Dr. Iqbal Hamza of the University of Maryland has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. Dr. Hamza was elected for groundbreaking discoveries and distinguished contributions on the biochemical and cell biology mechanisms underlying heme and iron trafficking and their regulation.
Anemia affects more than a quarter of the global human population. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anemia, making the study of iron metabolism a field with a large public health footprint. “Most people have heard of hemoglobin and know it is important to your blood. We make hemoglobin by using heme which we get from iron in our food; over 70% of the iron in our body is in hemoglobin. But, we don’t even know how the heme gets into the globin to create hemoglobin. This is a fundamental biochemical question with far-reaching public health impact,” said Dr. Hamza. By understanding the mechanisms around iron metabolism and heme production and transport, Dr. Hamza is ultimately working to understand, prevent, and treat anemia caused by iron deficiency, as well as to kill common parasites that feed on heme supplies through improved drug development. This is the goal of Dr. Hamza’s 15-year career as a Professor at the University of Maryland in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
When Dr. Hamza joined the University of Maryland and was asked what he wanted out of his career, he said, “I want to be able to look back and say I solved a major scientific problem in an imaginative and creative way. That is how I started studying heme and iron metabolism,” explained Dr. Hamza. “So little was known about the mechanisms, and I wanted to tackle a challenging problem head on.” When Dr. Hamza first started this journey, it was unknown how heme moved around the body because these mechanisms were so difficult to study. Since humans and common model organisms like mice and yeast create their own heme, it made it difficult to track transport patterns and distinguish what heme was made inside the body, or what heme was coming from outside sources like diet.
To address this issue, Dr. Hamza started studying these processes in bloodless worms called Caenorhabditis elegans. “These microscopic worms don’t make their own heme, but they need it to survive and are a great genetic model to study anemia. They are also transparent, making it easy to observe transport processes in an actual living organism,” said Dr. Hamza. This opened up the entire field to the groundbreaking discoveries in heme transport and signaling that Dr. Hamza is being honored for. He currently has grants from the National Institute of Health which include studying mutations in humans with defects in heme transport, how organs communicate with one another to signal when they need heme, how parasites steal heme from hosts, how to block parasites with pharmaceuticals to improve human and animal health, and how to develop sensors to track iron and heme movement in living cells and tissues.
“Being a AAAS Fellow is a great honor to me because it essentially tells me that my peers and colleagues appreciate the science we are doing here,” said Dr. Hamza. “To me, science is about exploration and adding to a new body of knowledge. I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I’m so excited coming to work each day because I just don’t know what I’m going to discover.”
The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org (link is external)) as well as Science Translational Medicine, Science Signaling, a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances, Science Immunology, and Science Robotics. AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes nearly 250 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world.
This year’s AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on November 24, 2017. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Saturday, February 17 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Central Time at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. For more information, seewww.aaas.org (link is external).