Postdoctoral Scholar of the Year Award: Zeenat Farooq, College of Medicine 

A woman in a lab taking samples
Zeenat Farooq, Postdoctoral Scholar of the Year. (Photo: Martin Hernandez/University of Illinois Chicago)

Zeenat Farooq’s natural curiosity fueled her desire to pursue a research career. But a drive to discover molecular-level connections that can improve public health was what focused it. 

“I just love science — so many things are happening on a microscopic level, and then a small trigger can change a lot of things,” said Farooq, a postdoctoral research associate in the College of Medicine’s division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. 

Farooq’s research examines the connection between HKDC1, a novel glucose-metabolism enzyme, and Alzheimer’s disease. Identifying this connection can help pinpoint lifestyle changes or medication regimes a person could adopt for early intervention in Alzheimer’s disease.  

“Although glucose metabolism dysregulation is known to influence dementias like Alzheimer’s disease, there is a huge gap in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that actually link the two conditions,” Farooq said. “Identifying some of these molecules might help us predict individuals (who) could be at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.” 

Farooq has conducted her research in Dr. Brian Layden’s lab since 2022. Layden, who nominated Farooq for the postdoctoral scholar award, said Farooq would be the lead author on the lab’s research findings related to glucose metabolism and Alzheimer’s disease. 

“Dr. Farooq is making excellent progress in her research field that places her in the top 1 to 2 percent of research scholars in the field of molecular biology,” said Layden, professor of medicine and chief of the endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism division. “Based on her superlative credentials thus far, she is an outstanding young researcher.” 

Farooq also leads a project to identify molecular markers involved in predisposing pregnant patients to gestational diabetes mellitus, a finding that could improve maternal and fetal outcomes. 

“If we are able to screen these markers, say through blood-based screening, we will be able to predict with precision those expectant females with a higher likelihood of developing gestational diabetes mellitus,” Farooq said. “We will be able to advocate for different interventions, both lifestyle-related and medication.” 

Farooq joined UIC in September 2020 after receiving her doctorate degree in biotechnology from the University of Kashmir and working as a postdoctoral research associate for the Indian Council of Medical Research. 

“UIC is my first workplace since moving to the United States, and it has a huge community of international scholars and faculty,” she said. “All the positive support and feedback from my department and the College of Medicine overall is amazing. It’s been an exciting journey.” 

Read about other recipients of the 2023 Researcher, Scholar and Inventor of the Year awards this week on UIC today, with new profiles posted each day. On April 22, you’ll find coverage on UIC today from the awards ceremony. 

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