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19 October 2012

First winner of Chemistry prize announced

A woman scientist from Bangladesh has been awarded the first Atta-ur-Rahman Prize. Shamsun Nahar Khan was honoured for her work on enzyme identification and inhibition, cutting-edge research on the borders of chemistry and biology.

First winner of Chemistry prize announced  The Atta-ur-Rahman Prize – worth US$5000 - was established last year and the first winner was announced on Tuesday 18 September at the TWAS 23rd General Meeting in Tianjin (China). The prize honours original and cutting-edge research carried out in chemistry by young scientists from scientifically lagging countries. 

In the words of its promoter, Atta-ur-Rahman, a world-renowned organic chemist from Pakistan, and a vice president of TWAS, “the prize aims to encourage young researchers to pursue original research in chemistry, embracing fields that lie at the interface of other disciplines, such as biology, engineering, physics, bioinformatics and structural biology”.

The first recipient of the Prize is Shamsun Nahar Khan, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at East West University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for her studies on the borders of chemistry and biology, looking at the structure-activity relationship of novel alpha glucosidase inhibitors. She will receive her award at a meeting in Bangalore of TWAS-ROCASA (the TWAS Regional Office for Central and South Asia).

Khan began her academic career in 1999 as a lecturer in the Department of Pharmacy and Clinical Pharmacology, at Gono Bishwabidyalaya (People's University), in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In 2002, she was awarded a postgraduate fellowship to undertake research on a PhD by the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), which is hosted by TWAS at its headquarters in Trieste. Khan completed her thesis at the H.E.J. Research Institute of Chemistry, International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences, at the University of Karachi, Pakistan, in 2008.

Showing an uncommon enthusiasm for both chemistry and biology, Khan carried out a variety of interdisciplinary investigations, including: anticancer studies; enzyme kinetics using chromatographic techniques; homology modelling; and pesticide and and medicinal plant analysis. She eventually focused her efforts on the identification of enzymes associated with different clinical conditions and a kinetic study of enzyme inhibition.

Khan is now working on novel alpha glucosidase inhibitors. Alpha glucosidases are enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Their inhibitors interfere with the absorption of glucose in the gut, and could help to control the blood sugar level in type-2 diabetes. Khan identified some major inhibitors within different families of natural compounds, such as terpenoids, flavonoids and iridoids, as well as within synthetic compounds such as biscoumarins, isocoumarins and chalcone derivatives. 

Shamsun Nahar Khan is the holder of 7 patents, and the recipient of several awards, including the award of Merit Scholarship Programme for High Technology from the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia. She supervised some 20 students between 2008 and 2010, and has authored more than 30 papers in international peer-reviewed journals. 

For these contibutions to her field, Khan was awarded the Atta-ur-Rahman Prize for chemistry.

Atta-ur-Rahman, from Pakistan, is a leading scientist and scholar in the field of organic chemistry, especially renowned for his research in areas relating to natural product chemistry. With over 850 publications, he is also credited with reviving higher education and research practices in Pakistan. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (UK) in 2006 thereby becoming one of the only 4 scientists in the Muslim world to ever have earned this honour. He is Vice-President (Central & South Asia) of the TWAS Council, President of the Network of Academies of Sciences of Islamic Countries (NASIC) and Foreign Fellow of the Korean Academy of Sciences. Atta-ur-Rahman was the President of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences from 2003 to 2006, and was again elected President of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences in 2011.

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