Farhad Imam, MD, PhD
|Hospital Title||Physician in Medicine|
|Academic Title||Instructor in Pediatric Medicine, Neonatology-Perinatology|
Acutely ill premature and term newborn infants are exposed to environmental perturbations as part of their disease process. Perturbations such as high/low oxygen tension or high/low temperature can cause cellular damage during a critical time of maturation for the brain and other organs, contributing to disorders such as cerebral palsy and seizures. Although responses to environmental stress have been studied in several model systems, most of this work has been performed in bacteria, yeast, or cell culture, and little is known about the molecular mechanisms that contribute to phenotypic stability during development in a whole-organism context in higher eukaryotes. The zebrafish Danio rerio is highly resistant to developmental perturbation in comparison to humans and mice, and ease of embryo collection and manipulation from the moment of fertilization allows for precise control of conditions. I have established an in vivo, zebrafish system for developmental stress and used it to identify novel, conserved stress-protective factors through a primary genome-wide expression screen and a secondary functional embryogenesis assay. These novel factors may help provide additional insight into key genes and pathways for buffering of developmental stress, and ultimately provide targets for therapeutic strategies for acutely ill and/or premature human infants.
About Farhad Imam
As a former MD/PhD student and Accelerated Research Pathway fellow in Neonatology, I have a shared commitment and passion for the clinic and the laboratory. My current balance of approximately 80% research and 20% clinical/teaching effort allows me to pursue my basic science research on molecular mechanisms of protection against hypoxia/ischemia and to further my experience as a clinician and supervisor in the NICU.
My commitment to the physician-scientist career path began in the Medical Scientist Training Program at Stanford University. For my thesis, I studied genetic factors that control cell fate and organogenesis, and I mapped and characterized a mutant in the FGF pathway with defective tracheal morphogenesis. I subsequently collaborated to construct the first cDNA microarray for a multicellular organism and discovered temporal patterns of developmental gene expression specifying Drosophila tissues, earning me co-first author publications in both Genetics and Science. During neonatology fellowship, I continued genetic and genomic approaches to understanding development, studying protective genetic mechanisms against oxygen and temperature variability in the robust zebrafish model. I identified molecular mechanisms of buffering during developmental stress in order to elucidate potential protective approaches for premature infants, who are exposed to variable and potentially damaging environments outside the womb. I have received several scientific awards and grants for my ongoing research on developmental stress buffering and have identified novel stress-protective genes using a systems-level, genome-wide approach. As I transition toward becoming an independent investigator, I plan to submit a manuscript for publication and an NIH K award application within the upcoming academic year.
The ability to approach existing problems from new angles is not only applicable in the scientific arena, but also underlies a device invention I made during internship. After witnessing recurrent catheter malplacement events in the NICU, I developed a safer catheter insertion method that provides real-time information about internal location during placement. In collaboration with the Technology Transfer Office at Harvard, I have obtained a patent and secured financial resources to build and validate medical- grade prototypes, including an NIH Phase I SBIR Award from the National Cancer Institute. I have also co-founded a company and recruited a team with both business and engineering expertise to commercialize this device.
I enjoy teaching colleagues and learning from my peers both informally at the bedside and in didactic formats, and I believe that effort put into education at every level is crucial. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant and mentor in graduate school, I successfully created, co-organized, and recruited teaching faculty for a novel class of my own conception. During residency, I had the opportunity to organize and lead a team of interns through an educational experience in international medicine after having attended a similar program during my own internship.
In summary, my background in genetic and genomic approaches to development and human disease in model organisms, combined with my medical training in caring for critically ill infants, allows me to identify important unanswered clinical questions and to pursue their answers using the full range of scientific approaches available. Furthermore, I believe that my experience as a scientist, innovator, teacher, and leader prepares me to take an active role in the advancement of neonatology to the forefront of molecular medicine through focused genetic and epigenetic studies of our newborns, their disease processes, and their hospital courses and outcomes.
Imam F, *Sutherland D, Huang W, Krasnow MA. stumps, a Drosophila gene required for fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-directed migrations of tracheal and mesodermal
cells. Genetics. 1999 May;152(1):307-18. PubMed PMID: 10224263; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1460608.
Arbeitman MN, *Furlong EE, *Imam F, *Johnson E, *Null BH, Baker BS, Krasnow MA, Scott MP, Davis RW, White KP. Gene expression during the life cycle of Drosophila melanogaster. Science. 2002 Sep 27;297(5590):2270-5. Erratum in: Science 2002 Nov 8;298(5596):1172. PubMed PMID: 12351791.
Vastenhouw NL, Zhang Y, Woods IG, Imam F, Regev A, Liu XS, Rinn J, Schier AF. Chromatin signature of embryonic pluripotency is established during genome
activation. Nature. 2010 Apr 8;464(7290):922-6. Epub 2010 Mar 24. PubMed PMID: 20336069.
* indicates co-first authorship