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American Muslim Life Changer: Dr. Samir Iqbal’s Device Detects Cancer Early

samir iqbal

Chereen’s interview with Dr. Samir Iqbal, the Pakistani-American scientist who developed a device to diagnose cancer rapidly. Iqbal worked on the project with Young-tae Kim, a UTA associate professor in the Bioengineering Department; Muhymin Islam, a STEM doctoral candidate; and engineering students Mohammad Motasim Bellah, Adeel Sajid and Mohammad Raziul Hasan.

 

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Chereen: Please tell me a bit about yourself.

Dr. Iqbal: I was born and raised in Bahrain. My dad was an expat working in research health; he worked as a pharmacist. I was 14 when I moved to Pakistan with my family and settled into a fairly large town. That was where we I got my schooling and college done. I was fortunate to be in a very active community. In college, I was one of the founders of the Anti-pollution movement, which [went] against the mafia cutting down trees. We also went after the chemical industry people who would just throw their chemicals into the water streams without treatment.

I also would get students engaged in donating blood, because there was a major disconnect in the country with patient care and people donating blood to the hospitals. I was very active when I was in college. People used to ring our bell at two in the morning and my parents would know that it was for me. It could have been that someone needed blood, or someone was in need of help.

Chereen: What motivated you to be this active?

Dr. Iqbal: I think that I was born this way, alhamdulilah. My parents were supportive of whatever I was doing. Our family is like that. I remember seeing my dad volunteer at a Pakistani school in Bahrain that was not very well funded. He would spend his time and type up every exam on an old cyclose style machine. This inspired me to do more. I was in high school when I started teaching my uncle’s three kids. That was the beginning because they were my very first students.

Chereen: Can you explain the process? I feel like the groundwork started early on to prepare you for something that is so profound and in-depth.

Dr. Iqbal: There is a plan, Allahu khairul makirin. Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala has his plan. We don’t know sometimes and we get anxious sometimes, but there is always something larger than we can see. I was in my bachelor’s of science when I got selected for the naval service. The navy training is very competitive, with many steps you have to go through even to be selected and join the academy. I appreciated the opportunity because it made a man out of a boy.

We have to spend time at high seas to appreciate what we have on land. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says it in the Quran that when we are on ships, when we are on sea, we beg for Him to bring us on stable ground. When we are on stable ground, we become arrogant again. Those that have not been at sea have no idea what that means. Being on the other side taught me a lot about life.

Chereen: From speaking to you, I can tell that you really do apply a lot of effort and that is something that is very important to you. Can you tell me more about that?

Dr. Iqbal: This is also fard (obligation). It is very important to utilize what we have been given. We are given a rizq, and then we are told to use our rizq in a certain fashion. This is how we have to use it, as a source of help. When Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says, “Wa mimma razaqnahom yunifiqun.” I give you rizq and you have to do yunfiqun out of it. Why shouldn’t we be using that rizq to do what we are supposed to do? Our goal should be to use this rizq as a source of benefit and relief.

Chereen: Can you tell me about the process of your innovative work? What started this development?

Dr. Iqbal: It has been a work of 4 to 5 years. It has been the work of many, many good hardworking students. The rate it has evolved, and I will tell you that it has evolved because we did not just hit it. It starts with living things, and in living things there are organs. There are layers of tissue that support those organs. Some of the organs that get cancer, some of the cells break apart, and pass through those membranes or supporting tissue and get into the bloodstream. This is how metastasis occurs.

nano

There is something interesting called the basement membrane. When you imagine it, it looks like the carpet you see in your offices. If you rub your hand, you see it is rough and has smalls ups and downs in it. Take it down to nanometer scale texture. We have to be careful taking this big jump from millimeter to nanometer, because millimeter is thousandth part of a meter, centimeter is hundredth part of a meter. One micrometer is millionth part of a meter. To appreciate how small a micrometer is, over here is 50 to 100 micrometer. Nanometer is 1,000 times smaller than one micrometer. This is the kind of scale we are talking about that Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala has created in our tissues. This is the supporting network. Every organ has its own types of cells. I do not even know if I can get to this depth in my lifetime. I am focusing on the basement membrane which supports this organ. Basement membrane has nano-texture to it, and it is known to be a very strong membrane. Of course it has to support all the organs in place.

Allah [ swt] has put all of these things in us with very fine delicacy and it is under pressure, but it is maintained and ordered in its place. The basement membrane shows that all these things stay in their place. The cancer cells want to go to another place and they want to make another colony, while killing that organism. Some of these cells break apart and get into blood streams. Most of them get cleared up by our immune system. When there are too many of them, some of them survive and find another distant organ. Again, they do their process by going through the tissue across the basement organ and get back to the support organ, what we call metastasis. Finding metastasis before it occurs saves lives. 90% of breast cancer deaths are actually through metastatic tumor.

This basement membrane and narrow texture, we recreated these conditions on a chip using nanotextured walls. We then saw that the metastatic tumor cells were showing distinctly different behavior than non-metastatic tumor cells. So if I get a biopsy sample from a patient and I don’t know how much metastatic potential is there in that sample, this system can tell me that as well. Just looking at that sample, an oncologist can look at that tumor and tell if it has spread, or if there might be a secondary tumor growing separately. This changes the whole approach of what therapy is to be given. It is early detection, it is precise. Hopefully, the way we are doing it and the way we have done it will make it very affordable. The goal is to deploy it as an annual physical tool and a screening tool is the goal.

Chereen: What was the leading factor that motivated you to work on something so groundbreaking and profound?

Dr. Iqbal: We all have seen our loved ones suffer with this disease. We all have seen our loved ones struggling and scared for the rest of their lives, because they went through something like this. My sister-in-law was a very humble lady, and she died from blood cancer. It happens by the will of Allah. We did not have tools to see it. Allahu khairul Makireen. I used to wish if I could do something for biochemistry, for the chemistry of diseases. I did not know how to go about it, but alhamdulilah we end up guided. I ended up having a doctoral advisor who was doing beautiful work in bio-detection, who gave me the opportunity to audit a course in Bio-MEMS. I sat and saw if this was something I wanted to do, and it changed my life. I was able to work on genes and detection of genes, and then I began to collaborate with people as an Assistant Professor. I worked with people that did remarkable work, which motivated me to want to do more.

Chereen: What kept you motivated throughout this journey?

Dr. Iqbal: The support is very important; you have to be in the company of the right people. My first doctoral advisor, Dr. Rashid Bashir has always been there to push me. My parents, my wife, my kids have always been there for me and to make dua’a for me. They have given me the freedom to spend my time on this. My wife did a major role in giving me my piece of mind and full support. This is the blessing of Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala, He puts you in the right company and gives you the correct support where you are reminded of how you can spend of your time and opportunities wisely. Going into the right company has helped me, I have learned from them and that has kept me inspired. Being friends with people that have been good to you and people that want to do well is what will keep you motivated.

Chereen: How has this accomplishment made you feel?

Dr. Iqbal: I went to the same school that Neil Armstrong went to, Purdue. He said, “It is one small step.” I don’t think we are there yet; I think it is a small step there. I am not saying we have achieved everything we can, but we have achieved a lot. However, there is much more that needs to be done. I say alhamdulilah, because we are one step closer.

Chereen: What advice would you give to anyone that wants to make a change in the world?

Dr. Iqbal: Gain experience! Pick right role models, your role models have to be good people. The beauty of America is that in every city there is a major university, where you can find the type of people who think about doing good for others. Where they are from does not matter, but it is the common goal that matters. It is their desire to good that should teach you how to become a better person. You have to learn how to be patient, to not live in a cocoon, and to learn how to be inspired from other people’s differences. This helps you get into the right environment, and then Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) will open ways for you. From there, you will gain experiences, and you will learn from your experiences. This world is full of many different people. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was sent for all of humanity, and it is on you to want to help all of the world and everyone in it. You should want to be a mercy for all of mankind. This is how you will begin to change the world for the better. This is how you will make a difference.

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Chereen is a therapist, as well as a certified learning, leadership, and change life coach. She enjoys writing, reading, coaching, and offering advice. You can find her daily inspirational posts on instagram: @dearchereen.

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    Rehmat

    March 18, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    Many rural areas in United States are anxious to copy the public-oriented Iranian primary healthcare system. The system is run by citizen. These health houses provide preventative care in informal yet effective manner. They can provide healthcare faster than far-away emegency rooms. In case of of extensive care, these houses have contract with local hospitals and clinics.

    The health house workers from the local communities, known as Behvarzan (meaning good skill in Persisn language) are trained to meet the basic health care needs of people living in rural areas. A female Behvarzan is responsible for, among other things, child and maternal health, vaccination, administering medicine, registration, etc; a male Behvarzan is responsible for the outdoor activities, such as, follow-up visits to the patients, sanitation and environment projects. Both work out of the health house, a rural medical post and the most basic unit of service delivery in country’s healthcare plan. The minimum age of male and female healthcare worker is 20 and 16 respectively. They’re required to have had 11 years of regular education plus two years of theoretical and practical training before being awarded a certificate to be allowed to practice. Even after graduation they’re subject to regular monitoring.

    As the result of the heath house scheme, the infant death have dropped from 200 per 1000 births to 26. With the Mississippi Delta rate 10 time worse than Iran’s – a group of volunteers from the US are traveling to Islamic Republic this month to get a crash course in how health houses work. The poor communities in America, 40 millions of whom cannot afford healthcare, because they cannot pay for medical insurances – have been considering to adopt Iranian healthcare model.

    https://rehmat1.com/2010/06/04/irans-health-house-model-for-us/

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#Life

What Repentance Can Teach You About Success

When losing weight, one piece of advice you’ll hear often is the following – if you fall off your eating plan one day, pick yourself back up and think of the next day as a fresh start.

Annoying, isn’t it?

You’ll hear this advice from people who have “made it” – they’ve lost a lot of weight, their lives have changed, and they’ll tell you to stick through it, and you’ll be like, yeah, I have, I tried, and I keep failing. I keep trying, I can’t sustain the motivation, I have life factors, I have stuff going on that makes this difficult.

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And you’re right.

You don’t have millions of dollars, a dedicated personal trainer and chef, the free time and lack of commitments others do, the lack of sleep, the injuries, or personal life circumstances that advantage others, nor do they have those that disadvantage you.

That’s not the point.

When you make a mistake, if you run through the process of regret, repentance, and retrying to do the right thing, Allah (swt) is pleased with you. And if you keep failing, repenting, and trying again, and again, and again, until you die, Allah keeps forgiving you.

The process of both recognizing your weakness, of getting out of denial, and humbling yourself and not thinking yourself so high and mighty has its own sobering effect. Not only does it help you in dealing with that atom’s weight of arrogance you don’t want to meet Allah (swt) with on the Day of Judgment, it helps make you a better human being, a more compassionate one, a more empathetic one, when calling others away from mistakes.

I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. Perfection is only for Allah (swt). But we’re trying. And the process of recognizing your weakness and at least attempting to rectify it means that maybe you’ll sin a little less, maybe you’ll still not invent excuses for mistakes and you’ll teach others, “Hey man, I know this is a sin, I know this is wrong, I hope you can do better than me.” And maybe they do change, and you’re both better for it.

Maybe in trying and failing again and again, what you end up doing is coming a little bit closer to success, and that process of trying and failing is the teacher you needed to get you out of your weakness and to then help others do likewise. Maybe that learning process serves you in succeeding elsewhere down the road in other treacherous turns and trials of life.

Whether it’s in losing weight, fixing broken relationships, pulling away from a heavy nafs addiction (eg pornography), don’t ever put yourself mentally in a position where “you’ve lost” and “you may as well give up” because “there’s no hope for me”. Don’t identify yourself by your failures.

So then, what is the point?

The point isn’t that you hit your goal perfectly. The point is that give your best, even with the little that you have, and that is good enough for you and for all of us. Ask Allah (swt) to help you better yourself, and in these 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah, increase in your du’a, cry to Him for help, in whatever area of life it is you’re trying to improve.

And whatever you fail at, don’t fall off for weeks on end. Acknowledge your mistake, own it completely and take full responsibility. Try to figure out where you went wrong in your process, get help from others if you need to. Forgive yourself, and don’t resign yourself to an identity based on your mistakes.

Never get tired of failing, getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up and trying to do and be better again.

It’s always a brand new day tomorrow.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things

Now that we have learnt about when the angels surround us, let’s now talk about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy encompasses all things.

We say بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  (bismillah Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem) a lot, right? It means ‘in the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.’ 

We say it when we pray, before we eat, and we’re encouraged to say it before we begin any new task. But do we really understand what rahma (mercy) means? 

Question: What do you think rahma means?

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Do you know that the word rahma comes from the root word, رحم (rahim), which means womb? 

Question: Who can tell me what a womb is?

That’s right. A baby is usually in their mommy’s womb for 40 weeks. The baby gets all the nourishment it requires; the temperature in the womb is perfect, the nutrients are always administered, it is safe and warm. All the baby has to do is grow, and alhamdulillah all its needs are being met. 

Question: How do you think the womb relates to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy?

Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy is constantly surrounding us like a safety net. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any pain, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is constantly showing us mercy with every breath we take. Even blinking is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that we don’t even have to think about. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even has more mercy for us than a mother has for her own child! 

One day the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was walking with a group of his companions, and they passed by a woman who was frantically looking for her child. She would take any child to her breast and try to feed him/her. Then the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions: “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.”

And guess what? There’s even more mercy in the hereafter than we’re experiencing right now. 

Salman al-Farisi reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Verily, on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created the heavens and earth, He created one hundred parts of mercy. Each part can fill what is between heaven and earth. He made one part of mercy for the earth, from it a mother has compassion for her child, animals and birds have compassion for each other. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect this mercy.” [Sahih Muslim]

99 parts of mercy on the Day of Judgment! That is one reason why it’s so important to have a good opinion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even tells us in Surat Al-A’raaf:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ

“My mercy encompasses all things” (Surat Al-A’raaf; 156]

And you all, my dears, are all encompassed by Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy, alhamdulillah. 

 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 18: When the Angels Surround Us

Now that we have learnt about Hajar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and her sa’i, let’s now talk about when the angels surround us.

Do you know that every time we sit together and remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we are not alone in our meeting? We have very special visitors, and these visitors love to hear us praising Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)and thanking Him. 

Question: Who can tell me who these visitors are?

Yes! They are angels! Can anyone name some angels for me?

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We have Angel Jibril 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) who has delivered every message to every Prophet since the beginning of time. We also have our angels on our left and right who write down our deeds.

Question: Does anyone know the name of the angel that is in control of the weather? 

His name is Angel Mikai’l. 

There are so many gifts that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) grants us when we gather together and remember him. Four things happen every single time! I want you to pay close attention to this hadith, because I’m going to ask you what those four things are after I read it. 

Are you ready?

‏لا يقعد قوم يذكرون الله عز وجل إلا حفتهم الملائكة، وغشيتهم الرحمة ونزلت عليهم السكينة، وذكرهم الله فيمن عنده‏

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.”

Question: Can you believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes mention of your name when you make mention of His? What do you think it means when “tranquility descends upon us?” Do you feel how calm your heart is? 

That is a gift from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and He tells us that our hearts find rest in His remembrance:

أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“…Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured” [Surah Ar-Ra’d; 28] 

 

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