It is estimated that 415 million people worldwide are living with diabetes. In Nigeria, where Mahmood Hussan grew up, one in ten adults are living with diabetes. With numbers expected to double by 2030, it was sobering statistics such as these that set Mahmood on an academic career in diabetes and cancer research.
‘Previously it was understood that gene mutations are solely responsible for various diseases, including diabetes and cancer. But more recently it's been understood that it’s not just mutation, but there are other modifications that can hijack the cancer cells in order to survive within the environment in the body’, Mahmood explains.
Through a scholarship, Mahmood studied Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (MSc) at Comsats University Islamabad in Pakistan , before returning to Nigeria to teach undergraduate students and perform genetic and environmental research in Usmanu Danfodiyo University. Fast forward to 2022 and Mahmood is conducting research as a PhD candidate at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. While Mahmood’s master's research in Pakistan looked at diabetic retinopathy, Mahmood is currently performing cutting-edge research in cancer epigenetics, epitranscriptomics, and metabolomics.He’s had two publications in academic journals and abstracts featured at two conferences.
‘I switched my focus to cancer to expand my knowledge, combine my understanding of the two diseases and then have a complete, mechanistic understanding of how they both work and interact. There are situations where people with cancer also have diabetes, so I want to be able to understand this and see the mechanisms that are similar and overlapping between the diseases. I'm interested in knowing the whole mechanistic view of humans and solving problems’, Mahmood explains.
Building lasting networks and friendships
Mahmood looks back on his scholarship experience with fond memories. ‘It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Before I started my scholarship, I thought it was going to be very difficult, but once I got there, I met some nice teachers and great friends. We used to go out hiking together and I even picked up some local dialect’, Mahmood recalls.
Mixing with students from different countries around the world – including Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and more – unlocked life-long learning for Mahmood. Exposure to people from diverse backgrounds and cultures enhanced Mahmood’s social awareness and intercultural skills.
‘The scholarship has enabled me to be buoyant and freely and confidently interact with people from different cultures. Back home, I was just interacting with Nigeria citizens and therefore I only understood the mindset of people from Nigeria. The scholarship helped me appreciate how differently people think and I learned how to socialise with people irrespective of their views, religion, race or where they are from’, Mahmood reflects.
Looking back, Mahmood considers his time in Pakistan as a major steppingstone to where he is now.
‘At COMSATS University in Pakistan, they had a lot of lab colleagues that helped me to learn the basics of genetic testing, as I was researching population genetics at the time. I believe this will continue to help me in the future, as my plan is to go back to Nigeria and set up a lab of my own once I’ve completed my PhD’, Mahmood explains.
Mahmood has big plans for the future. In addition to setting up a lab of his own, he plans to teach the next generation of scientists and move into commercial research to maximise the impact of his work and findings.
A Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarship is a unique opportunity to study for a two-years master’s degree in low or middle-income country of the Commonwealth.
Aimed at students who are committed to creating change in their communities, the scholarships are a life-changing opportunity to experience a new country and culture, to broaden horizons, and to build a global network that will last a lifetime.
Through cultural exchange and academic collaboration, Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholars help bring about positive change and find solutions to the shared challenges we face – both in their home countries and those that host them. As an active part of the Commonwealth network, scholars will help shape its future.
There are two application cycles to cover the academic years which start at different times across the globe, with some taking place July - October and others between January - February.