School of Life Sciences

UKZN professor is a leading diabetes researcher

UNIVERSITY of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) professor Shahidul Islam was named in Expertscape’s top 0.1% of scholars, this week, for his expertise, experimental and research work in a particular aspect of diabetes, especially over the last decade.

Expertscape is a leading medical search and content service that ranks the research work of medical professionals, and Islam’s ranking as a researcher was based on the 23 experimental diabetes articles he submitted between 2011 and 2021.

Islam, who is based at UKZN’s biochemistry department at their Westville campus, already has an established profile as a world expert on the aspect of diabetes he’s focused on.

Last year, Mendeley, a reference manager and academic social network, placed him in the top 2% of researchers on the subject in the world.

Web search engine Google Scholar has Islam listed among their top five researchers in the “animal model” discipline, the aspect of science where animals are used to gather information on how to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases.

Awards and honour is not his motivation for doing research.

He said his philosophy was to do something for people, to help them live better, recover, prevent or manage the disease better, that is what satisfied him.

“That will be the legacy I want to leave. We don’t do research for money, we work and never think who is going to give us something, rewards comes automatically,” he said.

In September, he became the editor-in-chief of the World Journal of Diabetes (WJD), a highly regarded US-based online publication that showcases peer-reviewed articles from world-renowned academics and researchers.

Islam has been a member on many editorial boards of international journals before, but this appointment, his first, came as a “surprise”.

The bulk of Islam and his UKZN bio-medical research group’s diabetes-centred research has been devoted to developing animal models for type 2 diabetes.

Islam said 95% of patients had type 2 diabetes, which made best sense for him to focus his research initiatives on this aspect because more people would benefit.

He created the research group in 2009, having joined the UKZN in the previous year.

Their models, produced in 2012 and 2014, have been widely used by scientists from around the world.

Islam explained that when new drugs and other products are produced to reduce the effects of diabetes, preclinical trials on animals must first be performed to test its efficacy.

He assured that all their research work and experimenting on animals, was always done in accordance with the prescribed ethics.

“We take animal ethics very seriously,” he said.

The professor was able to make significant developments in the use of animals in research and ensured high standards were maintained at all of UKZN’s animal facilities.

In 2013, the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) invited him to join them.

Islam became their chairman in 2015, and having completed his three-year term as the head, the AEC asked him to lead them for an additional year in 2018, which he accepted.

Islam said their latest work was on obesity because South Africa was now the fifth-ranked obesity prevalent country in the world.

“We started to focus on obesity and recently developed an animal model for that purpose.

“That is why the animal model is very crucial to speed up research and develop new drugs, medicines and interventions,” he said.

He said their animal models could be worked on in any country regardless of their facilities or resources.

Islam said 50% of diabetes sufferers were unaware they had the disease.

“When I became a professor, I titled my first lecture: ‘A Tale of a Neglected Pandemic’, to highlight the fact that diabetes was a silent killer,” he said.

Islam was born and raised in Bangladesh. He studied biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Dhaka, and eventually finished with his BSC honours and masters qualification.

He received a scholarship from the Japanese government to complete his PHD in food and nutrition, which was his passion early on in his career in science.

After working at a hospital as a biochemist and then as a senior lecturer in Bangladeshi university in 2004, he received an invite, a year later, to do diabetes research at the Seoul National University in Korea.

In 2006 he relocated to South Africa and worked at the North West University where he supervised PHD students doing diabetes research, and in October 2008 he moved to UKZN to do research and teach.

He previously received commendation from UKZN for being an outstanding teacher.

Islam is pleased that over the years diabetes research has helped provide improved medication, more awareness, people living better and enjoying a better quality of life.

>> Published in the Sunday Tribune (21 November 2021). Click here to read