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Ahmed Wins Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award

December 15, 2017

Bioengineering student Minhal Ahmed '19 was awarded the Undergraduate Advanced Research/Creative Endeavor Award for his research project entitled, "The Gut-Brain-Axis: Exploring the Interface Between Enteroendocrine Cells and the Enteric Nervous System" which he will complete with Professor Abigail Koppes and her ABNEL Lab Team.  The Northeastern Office of the Provost grants this award to support compelling undergraduate projects executed under the mentorship of faculty. 

How, exactly, do our gut bacteria talk to our brain-- and how does it talk back? This question drives Ahmed's work in Koppes' Lab. He shares, "In addition to the Rebecca's Cafe sandwich we ate for lunch, our intestines harbor a rich community of commensal microorganisms that constitute the gut microbiota. The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in maintaining normal gastrointestinal (GI) function, and dysbiosis of this microbiome has been implicated in not only GI disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, but also psychological disorders like anxiety and depression. Mounting associative evidence suggests that our microbial inhabitants communicate with our brain and influence high-order functions like mood and cognition, but the mechanisms underlying this gut-brain signaling remain unclear."

His research explores signals between the enteroendocrine cells (EEC) of the gut and the enteric neurons of the enteric nervous systems as a potential route of direct neural signaling between the gut lumen and the brain. Towards this goal, Ahmed is developing a microfluidic platform to study the interface between EEC and enteric neurons and enable controlled experiments of EEC-ENS signaling. He remarks, "This project is exciting to me because I believe that uncovering the ways by which our increasingly-appreciated gut microbiome affects both our physiological and psychological health can have revolutionary consequences for our understanding of health and disease, and ultimately lead to new treatment options for both GI and psychological disorders." Additionally, this work, "allows me to apply the knowledge I have gained through Northeastern's bioengineering curriculum to create a novel platform for studying a poorly understood system." After graduating from Northeastern Ahmed plans to pursue an MD/PhD to continue conducting research that extends the understanding of human physiology, and better equips medical professionals to treat it when problems arise.