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"It is time to pause and discover yourself!”. An interview with Mohamed Abdelsalam, Postdoctoral Fellow at IRB Barcelona



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Mohamed Abdelsalam (Egypt) is a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow who moved to Barcelona in 2019 to join Jordi Casanova’s Development and Morphogenesis in Drosophila Laboratory at IRB Barcelona. Since 2013, he has been an Assistant Lecturer and a Lecturer of Pharmacognosy (the branch of pharmacy that studies plants or other natural sources as a possible source of drugs) at the Faculty of Pharmacy, Delta University for Science and Technology (Mansoura, Egypt). In 2018, he got  a PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the University of São Paulo (Brazil) in a Joint Collaboration with the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine (Rochester, USA). 

Mohamed is passionate about arts and music and is committed to environmental issues. While he appreciates that the COVID-19 outbreak is an urgent issue that needs to be solved, he is also very concerned about some of its environmental impacts, such as the pollution caused by the increased waste created out of the massive use of disposable gloves and masks.

Mohamed plays the piano and paints acrylic abstract art. During a stay at the Mayo Clinic Hospital (Rochester, USA) as part of his doctorate studies, he used to play the piano to patients and the public. There, he also participated in several campaigns and awareness events about health and environment for finding better solutions. As an academic, he used to provide support to his pharmacy students in their activities. 


Video credits: Alejandro Silva Corbalán, Photographer and video creator (Instagram: @alejandrosilvacorbalan).


The COVID-19 lockdown inspired Mohamed to do some paintings. What at the start seemed like an “unproductive forced confinement” turned out to be a highly creative period that allowed him to express his feelings in a series of beautiful portraits. Check out Mohamed’s artwork here:


“It is not only about doing science, but also about dedicating your time to doing some artwork and the hobbies you enjoy during this period! It is time to pause and discover yourself!”.


Why did you apply for a postdoc position at IRB Barcelona?    

It was the research performed at IRB Barcelona that made me apply for a postdoc fellowship sponsored by the European Union (under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement). My overarching research interests revolve around the discovery of new biological molecules as potential drug leads/candidates based on natural products. 

My research interests include performing biological and pharmacological screenings of bioactive compounds. I use a combination of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Modern Chemical biology techniques to answer the how, where and how fast questions of natural organic molecules as potential entities in drug discovery. More specifically, I am interested in answering biological questions by directly probing living systems at the chemical and biological level. 

That is why I have decided to pursue a postdoc to gain some experience in the biological work performed in Prof. Casanova's lab (my Group Leader), where my project revolves mainly around studying the human homolog of the Drosophila headcase (HECA). 


What were your first impressions upon your arrival at IRB Barcelona? 

I felt immediately at home with the members of the research group, starting from the welcome given to me by IRB Barcelona’s HR Department (especially Maria Rovira, HR Talent & International Mobility Coordinator) and by the members of my lab.


Your confinement, which caught you in Barcelona, was unexpectedly devoted to painting. What motivated you? 

Being confined at home for months was hard at first because I am a very active person who likes to walk and explore nature, but I challenged myself and decided to make use of this time to  do things I enjoy, and this drove me to pick up my brush again and start painting. 



During your internship at the Mayo Clinic, you used to play the piano for hospital patients. How did you get inspired to do this?

There are several pianos throughout the many buildings of the Mayo Clinic and anyone can use them. This stirred something inside me and as soon as I saw a piano, I immediately sat down at it and found my fingers playing a piece of music. I remember that day, Professor John Lieske (my PhD co-supervisor) spotted me and took a pic!


If you had to choose one of your pieces of artwork, which one would it be? What is its meaning? 

I would choose all of them, as each piece means something to me! Most of the work I have painted is abstract so it would also have different meanings and prospective views for everybody!


A message that you would like to share with the IRB Barcelona community.

Despite what we are all experiencing in this pandemic, this tiny virus has inspired me to pick up my paint brush again after many years and I have started painting some abstract acrylic artwork that I am really passionate about! Let's start doing the things we love during this COVID-19 crisis and continue even after it has all ended, let’s mark a new beginning and keep it up as a new lifestyle and never get down! VAMOS!


About IRB Barcelona

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) pursues a society free of disease. To this end, it conducts multidisciplinary research of excellence to cure cancer and other diseases linked to ageing. It establishes technology transfer agreements with the pharmaceutical industry and major hospitals to bring research results closer to society, and organises a range of science outreach activities to engage the public in an open dialogue. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 researchers and more than 30 nationalities. Recognised as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence since 2011, IRB Barcelona is a CERCA centre and member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).