Tell us about your foray into the field of neuro science. How did it all begin for you? My interest in research, particularly in the field of neurosciences, was evoked during my MSc thesis completed from the department of physiology, University of Karachi. My research project was focused at determining the effects of what happens to our muscles, their wasting and degeneration after starvation or denervation in a lizard model. We are talking about 1983-1984! I was so fascinated to learn about the brain and its interworking that I decided to pursue further training in the area of neuroscience. I took a one-way ticket and went to Leeds, England in March, 1985 to do my PhD; the only thing that I possessed with me was my zeal and zest and conquest for some interesting fundamental questions in the field of neuroscience. I was particularly interested in finding out how brain controls various rhythmic behaviours such as breathing and locomotion. I was fortunate to secure some of the top research scholarships for my research and managed to finish my PhD in a record time of two and half years. The accesses to sophisticated equipment and being surrounded by equally curious minds fostered further conquest for knowledge and discovery, which then brought me to Canada in 1988 – and I have never looked back since. You have been lauded for creating the world’s first neuro chip. For the ones who don’t know, please explain what it really is, how beneficial it is to the field of neuro science and your experience in the discovery. During my PhD and postdoctoral research, I realised that if we were ever to understand how brain works and how best to fix it when it is damaged – either due to disease, trauma or injury that we must acquire the ability to record from large networks of brain cells – a feat that had not been achieved before. Notwithstanding the fact that I was fortunate to record from 12 brain cells concurrently during my PhD, this I deemed to be insufficient to understand even simple reflexes in simple animals. Thus, a conquest began to develop bionic hybrids whereby a semi-conductor chip could be interfaced with brain cells – a marriage between the brain cells and a semi-conductor chip. People laughed at us for suggesting such a radical idea as pairing a brain cell with an artificial device was deemed to be impossible. The biggest challenge was to design and develop a computer chip-like device which would be bio-compatible while possessing the qualities of a brain cell. After considerable efforts and working with several teams around the world, we managed to get this major breakthrough where our designed and developed device paired wonderfully with the brain cells and we achieved the first ever and true bionic hybrid. This device allowed us to establish a two-way link between the brain cells and the semi-conductor chip. We have since developed this technology further to record from large networks of brain cells, brain slices and now ready to implant these chips in humans suffering from epilepsy. For its applications, I would say the following. Imagine a Time! When a child who loses a leg in an accident or to disease would be outfitted with the most advanced prosthetic in the world. It would be controlled by a microchip that turns her brain impulses into radio signals to control her bionic limb as if it were her natural leg. Or imagine a special undershirt that is capable of monitoring an elderly man’s vital signs reminds him to take his medication and can call for help if he falls or suffers a stroke. Imagine a bionic eye fitted with a microchip that is fed images from the outside world through a camera mounted on a pair of glasses – allowing a partially blind person to see the world inside his brain. Now imagine a time when a cochlear implant comprising of a microsensor picks up an epileptic seizure, dials the cell phone to let the patient know that he/she is about to have a seizure while dialling 911, turning on the GPS locator on their cell phone and helping the ambulance locate their precise location. Imagine a time when all surgical procedures will be performed by robots and human test data and its results interpreted by artificially intelligent humanoids. As science fiction as this may sound, it is now becoming a reality – thanks to recent advances in biomedical engineering. To make these science fictions a reality, one of the major hurdles that needed to be crossed was to generate a true bio-compatible, bionic hybrid with two-way links between semi-conductor chip and the human tissue/organ. Such a feat was achieved for the first time, by our team and collaborators. We provided the first ever direct evidence demonstrating that indeed a true bionic hybrid – whereby a brain cell could be fully and bi-directionally interfaced with a semi-conductor chip. This major breakthrough has since opened the door for creating brain-machine interfacing devices and software which are about to revolutionise the field of neurology – where otherwise does not exist any cure for most disorders and diseases. This breakthrough was highlighted in Time Magazine, Discovery Channel etc to name a few but more importantly, this proof of concept has triggered immense interest in those who seek to find engineering solutions for major health problems. Such an interest in this field will not help train the future generation of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers but also the technologies developed will set the course for knowledge-based economy. Have you considered coming to Pakistan and applying you knowledge and expertise in your home country? Yes, I have and we are in the process of building a state-of the-art innovation hub in Pakistan which we deem to be the Knowledge Mall – a one Stop Shop to knowledge-based economy. This university will be located in Islamabad and will harbour integrated and interdisciplinary platforms for education, research, innovation, commercialisation and product development. I am also hosting several students from Pakistan who are completing their PhD in my lab. I give several talks yearly in Pakistan to excite and stimulate young minds and encourage them to follow their passion towards research and innovation. I was awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan in 2017 – which I consider to be a tremendous moment of pride and honour. I am a strong believer that if Pakistan were to shine on the horizon of the world map – as an advanced and developed nation of innovators, that it must embrace knowledge-based economy. You are very well travelled and have given lectures and presentations all over the world. Which is your favourite country to vacation in? Indeed, I have given several hundred keynote lectures around the world but my heart lies in Pakistan and its people. I love visiting my motherland not just for vacation but also to share my knowledge and expertise. The passion, interest and conquest for knowledge exhibited by Pakistani students and trainees is unparalleled in the world. Also – nowhere in the world the fruits taste so good nor are flowers so sweet smelling. I always feel at home in Pakistan. What drives me to keep pushing harder is that we must reclaim the Golden Age of Islam when we led the world in all aspects and facets of life — from creating new knowledge, curing diseases to exploring the universe Which country has been the most receptive of your presentations and lectureship? Although most places in North America and Europe “get it” right away the significance of our research because of their exposure to technology, the sense of awe and interest shown by Pakistani trainees and students is always heart-warming. You can see in their eyes the passion and a sense of awe and inspiration which is joy to behold. I love giving talks in Pakistan. Tell us about a memorable moment in your career. I have been fortunate to receive many national and international awards but the most memorable moment was in the year 2017 when both my real mother (Pakistan) and adopted mother (Canada) awarded me with their highest honours. Specifically, I was awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan and in the same year, Canadian Senate blessed me with Canada-150 medal. I believe that I am the only person to have been recognised by two countries that I held the citizenship of – and in the same year. I consider this to be one of the most cherished moment in my career. What are you currently working on? We are now taking our technology to the next stage of implanting chips in children who suffer from epilepsy. Children who do not respond to medication and are selected to undergo surgery. However, the surgeons cannot precisely locate the site of seizures which requires special surgical procedures. These children are then fitted with electrodes connected to a 30-foot cable and they remain in a hospital for several days. During this period, the surgeon attempts to record seizures and to locate the area where they might be originating from. This is generally a guess work which results in unnecessary removal of even normal brain tissue thus leaving the child with functional loss. Our novel chip is not only MR compatible, more sensitive but also wireless – thus allowing the child to go home in a less stressful environment. The seizures are then recorded more accurately, and captured either by their cell phone or a pocket backpack and then sent back to the hospital with more accurate location of the seizures and their intensity. This allows the surgeon to respect only those areas that trigger seizures thus minimising the damage to their brain and to foster faster recovery. Our technology has won several national and international awards and we are very excited to move it forward to its practical applications. What motivates you to excel no matter what? As a Muslim, I believe that we are mandated to provide service to humanity and deemed by the Holy Quran to be of utmost important. Thus, if I could put a smile on one face, have someone walk because of the technology that I developed or to see one life breathed easily because of my technology – it would be to have lived. Being a scientist, my principles are the same and I find no difference between my faith and science. The other aspect that drives me to keep pushing harder is that we must reclaim the Golden Age of Islam when we led the world in all aspects and facets of life – from creating new knowledge, curing diseases to exploring the universe. What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you? I would like to see Pakistan as a prosperous, vibrant, advanced and technology and innovation driven nation. Pakistan has tremendous potential to make this dream come true because 50 percent of its population is under 25 and this is its most precious resource. Unfortunately, our most valuable commodity – the human capital – is not being put to best use. We have an incredible and painful dropout rate of almost 57 percent from grade 8 and onwards, the highest infant mortality rate in the world, worst stunted growth rate amongst our youth – to name a few issues. These will continue to take the wind out of our sail. Our growing population with diminishing resources and lack of job opportunities have invoked tremendous brain drain while leaving the qualified workforce without infrastructure, highly frustrated and helpless. I believe that if we were to turn this ship around, we would need to pay close attention to our education system to ensure that no child is left behind and that the minimum education to grade 12 is made mandatory. Our youth and children are our shared treasure and common responsibility and we must all chip in to help offset the cost of their education. We need to have outreach programs to make sure that the education is made available to children living and growing in smaller villages and towns. I recognize that not all children are academically inclined, for them, we must create technical schools and colleges and offer trades and skills training diplomas. We also need to work on our industry development where these children could then be employed. The lack of industry in Pakistan and exploding population with no job prospects could leave the younger generation frustrated and our asset turning into a liability. I think that at the higher education levels, we need to build local infrastructure and state of the art facilities to allow our foreign trained researchers to take advantage of their training and skills. We have sent so many students abroad to complete their PhD while not thinking about the landing pads where these eagles would land upon return. We are good at taking off – but never think of the landing pad! As a result, we end up burning fuel and coming down crashing. Now these foreign trained PhD are having to work at collages in smaller towns and universities with no way to harness their expertise and experience. We also need to become self-sufficient in developing research tools in the forms of chemicals and antibodies etc. to cut reliance on purchasing this material from overseas – which takes long times to acquire and at a cost which is not affordable. We need to get rid of nepotism and self-interest; in the end God forbid, if the ship sinks it will take with it everybody – regardless of which section of the deck one rests! We, at Daily Times, consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours? My hero is Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was a symbol of defiance, relentless pursuit of excellence and with an unparalleled commitment towards his cause. His work ethics and foresight baffled not only the people of the subcontinent but the foes alike – a true symbol of faith, unity and discipline. The other heroes are all those who have sacrificed their lives to create and protect Pakistan since its inception and I will always remain indebted to them for their sacrifices towards a free and prosperous Pakistan. Achievements INTERNATIONAL STAR Dr Naweed I Syed has been lauded both in Pakistan and abroad for his immense services to the field of neuro-science. He is the proud recipient of the prestigious and the highly distinguished Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Medal of Excellence) by the government of Pakistan and in the same year, he was awarded with the Canada-150 Medal by the Canadian Senate. SCIENTIST PAR EXCELLENCE Dr Naweed I Syed is the first scientist to connect brain cells to a silicon chip, creating the world’s first neuro-chip.