I am Abraam Yakoub, an Assistant Professor in the Biomedical Sciences Department. I have had a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree, and I pursued my PhD at the University of Illinois in Chicago, in virology and cell biology. I performed extensive postdoctoral research at Stanford and Harvard Universities, in neuroscience (mouse models and stem cell-derived (neuron and organoid) models of brain diseases), and was trained by some of the world's best (Nobel laureate) scientists. I have enormous passion for science and for mentoring. Outside the lab, I hike, run, listen to good music, read and write, especially in the field of linguistics and evolution of human languages, which is the theme of a book that I am currently writing. I am a polyglot (speak more than six languages); and human language fascinates me, from both the biology/neuroscience and the linguistic perspectives. What gives me joy and satisfaction in life is scientific discovery and seeing my students succeed and ‘transform’ into the best they can ever be. I appreciate being, and doing, the best you can, ambition and diligence.
We only work on big ideas, and tackle the biggest questions in science, using cutting-edge technologies, such as stem cells, human brain organoids, and genetically engineered animals. We are the only stem cell and brain organoid lab at UND and in the entire North Dakota. To achieve these highly promising ideas, we collaborate intensively with colleagues in many relevant fields; we dogmatically believe in the power of collaboration and that the best ideas come to existence out of many minds thinking hard together, to defeat a grand challenge in science or medicine. Some of our intriguing research directions are:
1. Virus-brain interactions: Understanding the molecular mechanisms of viral pathogenesis in the brain by multiple neurotropic viruses; Investigating the viral bases for neurological and neurodevelopmental diseases
2. Viruses as tools for neuroscience research and gene therapy of diseases: Developing viral tools and technologies to trace human brain circuitry and map out the cellular/molecular bases for behavior at single-cell and single-molecule levels; Developing viral tools to effect cell-specific genetic manipulation in the brain for precise control and therapy of devastating neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, autism and amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
3. Human brain development and its disorders: Understanding the molecular mechanisms of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. autism, and Alzheimer’s disease), using cutting edge technologies such as stem-cell derived human neurons, human brain organoids and genetically engineered humanized mouse models; Understanding human-specific brain development including the impact of certain genes or cell biology processes on evolution and development of the human brain and the advanced human cognitive and intellectual abilities
4. Next-generation neuropharmacology: Performing single-cell and single-synapse neuropharmacology via developing tools to deliver drugs to certain cell types or synapses in the brain to enhance potency and specificity and reduce the devastating side-effects of CNS and psychotropic drugs
1. Yakoub AM, et al. (2019). Analysis of synapses in human cerebral organoids. Cell Transplant., 963689718822811.
2. Yakoub AM. (2019). Cerebral organoids exhibit mature neurons and astrocytes and recapitulate electrophysiological activity of the human brain. Neural Regen Res. 14, 757-761.
3. Yakoub AM, et al. (2018). Development and characterization of human cerebral organoids: An optimized protocol. Cell Transplant. 27, 393-406.
4. Yakoub AM, et al. (2018). Autoantigen-Harboring Apoptotic Cells Hijack the Coinhibitory Pathway of T Cell Activation. Sci Rep. 8, 10533.
5. Yakoub AM, et al. (2019). A model for apoptotic-mediated adaptive immune evasion via CD80–CTLA-4 signaling. Front Pharmacol. 10, 562.
6. Yakoub AM,* Jaishankar D*, Yadavalli T, Agelidis A, Thakkar N, Hadigal S, Ames J, Shukla D. (2018). An off-target effect of BX795 blocks herpes simplex virus type 1 infection of the eye. Science Translational Medicine 10, pii: eaan5861. * Equal first authors.
7. Antoine TE, Hadigal S, Yakoub AM, Mishra YK, Adelung R, Valyi-Nagy T, Bhattacharya P, Haddad C, Prabhakar BS, Shukla D. (2016). Intravaginal Zinc Oxide Tetrapod Nanoparticles as Novel Immunoprotective Agents against Genital Herpes. J. Immunol. 196, 4566-75.
8. Yakoub AM, Shukla D. (2015). Basal Autophagy Is Required for Herpes simplex Virus-2 Infection. Sci. Rep. 5, 12985.
9. Hadigal SR, Agelidis AM, Karasneh GA, Antoine TE, Yakoub AM, Ramani VC, Djalilian AR, Sanderson RD, Shukla D. (2015). Heparanase is a Host Enzyme Required for Herpes Simplex Virus-1 Release from Cells. Nat. Commun. 6, 6985.
10. Yakoub AM, Shukla D. (2015). Autophagy Stimulation Abrogates Herpes simplex Virus-1 Infection. Sci. Rep. 5, 9730.
11. Jaishankar D,* Yakoub AM,* Bogdanov A, Valyi-Nagy T, Shukla D. (2015). Characterization of a proteolytically stable D-peptide that suppresses Herpes simplex virus-1 infection: Implications for the development of entry-based antiviral therapy. J. Virol. 89, 1932-8. * Equal co-first authors.
12. Yakoub AM, Shukla D. (2015). Herpes simplex Virus-1 Fine-Tunes Host's Autophagic Response to Infection: A Comprehensive Analysis in Productive Infection Models. PLoS One 10, e0124646.
13. Yakoub AM, Shukla D. (2015). Fine-tuning of Autophagy Is Required for a Productive Herpes Simplex Virus Ocular Infection. Invest. Ophthalm. Vis. Sci. 56, 940.
14. Yakoub AM, Rawal N, Maus E, Baldwin J, Shukla D, Tiwari V. (2014). Comprehensive Analysis of Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1) Entry Mediated by Zebrafish 3-O-Sulfotransferase Isoforms: Implications for the Development of a Zebrafish Model of HSV-1 Infection. J. Virol. 88, 12915-22.
15. Antoine TE, Yakoub AM, Maus E, Shukla D, Tiwari V. (2014). Zebrafish 3-O-sulfotransferase-4 generated heparan sulfate mediates HSV-1 entry and spread. PLoS One 9, e87302.
University of Illinois at Chicago
- Postdoctoral Training:
A brief list of press releases and US and international newspapers and media featuring our work and discoveries is appended below.
US and global media in English (include NIH, Nature, Science, Yahoo, The Atlantic, Eurekalert):
- https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/toolbox/database-lab-tricks-may-crack-secrets-of-the-synapse (Spectrum News of the Simon’s Foundation for Autism Research featuring our synaptic organoid modeling work)
I strongly believe in the transformative power of mentorship, where the mentor is also a role-model for his/her mentees capable of transforming their lives and careers. Great scientists are just the product of great mentors (in my opinion).
I mentor students to become the best they can ever be, in terms of their scientific capability and rigor, intellectual prowess and also “humanness” (being an empathetic, compassionate human being). I attempt to instill in my mentees my top-notch zeal for science and my absolute unbelief in the word “impossible”. Indeed, one of my most inspiring quotes is Einstein’s “Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible”. Thus, many of the projects/ideas we pursue in my laboratory are ultra–‘high risk high reward’ ideas. But if they work, those ideas can change the world and make history!
I attempt to instill in my mentees the spirit of bravery and hope coupled with intelligent thinking. I build leaders, who would not hesitate to contest ‘mainstream’ ideas or conception, using keen intellect and scientific investigation. My hope and diligent effort is to build the next generation of the world’s scientific leaders.
I attempt to instill in my mentees the spirit of aiming high, indeed the highest possible. I believe in Steve Jobs’ saying “We hire people who want to make the best things in the world”.
I train my mentees to think with me to help me solve problems; I do not think for them or raise them as intellectually dependent, and I do not just use them as technical tools to run a bunch of experiments. My quote of choice in managing my laboratory is Steve Jobs’ “It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do- we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
I train my mentees to be strong, intellectually and emotionally: to be critical of ideas, to appreciate criticism and learn from it, to be resilient in the face of challenges, and to overcome problems and difficulties; because this is who I am.
- We gratefully acknowledge generous support from our funders, the National Institutes of Health and the University of North Dakota.
- We are well-funded and are accepting motivated undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral trainees.