Immunity illuminator

    Sanam Mustafa

    Molecular Pharmacologist
    University of Adelaide

    I am a Research Fellow for the Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics (CNBP) at the University of Adelaide. The research at CNBP brings together biologists (like myself), physicists and chemists to solve real biological problems using light. My research focusses on understanding how the brain’s immune system can control human behaviour!

    What is the big picture goal or purpose behind your research?

    Chronic pain affects 1 in 5 adults in Australia and is estimated to cost the Australian economy $34.3 billion a year. Morphine, the current gold standard for pain relief, has many unwanted effects such as exaggerated pain and addiction. In 2017, prescription opioids were implicated in over 70% of drug-related deaths in Australia.

    My research will address these issues by:

    – Developing a test to quantify pain: Currently patients self-score their pain rate on a scale 1 -10. This subjective measure is problematic as individuals have different thresholds of pain and self-scoring is open to manipulation for drug seeking purposes.

    – Understanding how morphine works: In order to develop effective pain relief treatments, it is crucial to understand how morphine and its related compounds work. My research will design pain relief therapies that have fewer or no side effects.

    – Understanding how the immune system can control human behaviour: The immune system, which protects against sickness, can control addictive behaviours and how much stress or pain an individual feels.

    What do you know about STEM now that you didn’t know at school?

    I didn’t know very much about STEM when I was at school! I now know that STEM can lead to diverse and exciting careers.

    What are some of the most exciting career opportunities that you see emerging in STEM?

    I find the multidisciplinary approach to solving real world problems very exciting. Instead of working in isolation, all disciplines coming together to solve problems will lead to exciting career opportunities.

    Why do we need more women working in STEM?

    We need more women in STEM as women represent a key resource and a unique perspective. People with diverse backgrounds bring with them diverse and unique solutions to problems. If we do not tap into the skills and critical thinking women provide, we as a society are missing out.

    Sanam’s career path:

    >> Masters of Science (Genetics), University of Glasgow

    >> Work placement, GlaxoSmithKline, England

    >> PhD (Molecular Pharmacology), University of Glasgow

    >> Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Western Australia

    >> Research Fellow, Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, University of Adelaide

    Dr Sanam Mustafa immune system

    “I find the multidisciplinary approach to solving real world problems very exciting.”

    artificial intelligence
    Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

    Author: Larissa Fedunik-Hofman

    Larissa is the editorial assistant for Careers with STEM and a Chemistry PhD student. Larissa’s goal is to promote public engagement with STEM through inspiring stories.


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