Dr. Arlene Williams-Persad leads research into ways to help the body fight disease
Janelle De Souza
Dr. Arlene Williams-Persad wants people to know that no matter where they start in life or what setbacks they may have to overcome, with hard work they can achieve their goals.
She attended St Joseph’s Girls’ RC School, Curepe Junior Secondary and St Augustine Senior Comprehensive before attending UWI. She is now a pharmacologist and a lecturer in pharmacology at the university’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, St Augustine campus.
She is also the Treasurer of the West Indian Immunology Society (WIIS), a 5K runner, and one of nine women to receive the Distinguish Woman in Immunology award at the 13th Latin American and Caribbean Congress of Immunology. Latin American and Caribbean Association of Immunology (ALACI 2022) in Cuba.
“I am very proud of my career. I want more flowers to bloom in the government school system.
Williams-Persad, 46, represented UWI and WIIS at ALACI2022, which took place June 6-10 at Meliá Internacional, Varadero, Cuba.
Held every three years, the congress brings together researchers from Latin America and, more recently, the English-speaking Caribbean in the discipline of immunology and related sciences, and encourages young people to get involved in research.
She presented the topic of treatment and management of chronic granulomatous disease (CGD) – a rare hereditary disease. It was the first time TT had been represented at the conference and the first English-speaking Caribbean country to be represented.
She said she presented at the last WIIS symposium in April and through that symposium, was invited to present at ALACI2022.
The WIIS was formed in February 2021 and its members were students and academic staff from UWI and clinical staff from various regional health authorities.
Williams-Persad said one in 250,000 people are born with GSC each year in the United States and Italy, while the statistic is one in 20,000 in developing countries.
She said there is a high risk of people dying from CGD if they have TB because they are very susceptible to viral infections due to a mutation in the enzyme NADPH oxidase (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate oxidase), l one of the proteins of immune cells.
She and her colleagues would like to take a closer look at the defect in the NADPH oxidase enzyme.
“As well as improving the quality of the treatment – there is a new stem cell technique to help improve and reverse the protein – we want to take a closer look at this NADPH oxidase in our lab and maybe see if, in d For other inflammatory diseases or neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, this defect could be helpful, or if there may be a drug to suppress this NADPH oxidase to alter this function and help these patients.
She said the diseases were the result of oxidative stress.
“When a bacterium or fungus is present in cells, NADPH oxidase gets activated, forms a super oxide, something like bleach, inside the cell to dissolve the bacterium or fungus and heals us.”
The super oxide molecules formed were pro-oxidants and if there were too many of them in the body, they caused oxidative stress which damaged or killed cells. People with neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases have been found to have too many pro-oxidants, so if oxidative stress is stopped, it could slow down the disease.
Williams-Persad told WMN that she got involved in immunology about two years ago when she and her colleagues at UWI began looking at how pharmacology and immunology worked together.
Angel Justiz Vaillant, lecturer at UWI and president of the WI Immunology Society, introduced him to CGD. In studying the pathology of the disease, they found that very little work had been done on it in the past five years. So they continued the work and discovered that there were promising treatments, stem cell transplants, which were still being tested but were only used in severe cases.
They published an article on the treatments available.
“The NADPH oxidase enzyme in this rare disease sparked my interest because I’m very interested in drug development and CGD gave us the key to try to see how we could use it in healthy humans who are suffering. other conditions.
“Also, I’m interested in anti-inflammatories because my mother has very severe arthritis. We use painkillers all the time and it would be nice to see if we could find another agent that would stop the whole process from happening or reverse it instead of just treating the pain.
Williams-Persad said her father was in the labor movement and wanted her to go into business, but she always loved the beach, plants and animals. Also, when she was younger, one of her family members studied biochemistry at UWI. She admired his intelligence and wanted to follow in his footsteps, so she did.
However, since she didn’t know what she wanted to do other than biochemistry, she also took several courses in botany, human resources, psychology, food preservation and more. During her studies, she worked as a laboratory technician at the Faculty of Medical Sciences where she did research by working with lecturers and professors.
“The work of some professors interested me and I became involved in pharmacology and research in pharmacology. This is how we ended up doing research in herbal medicine and becoming interested in animal experimentation as a technician.
“People claim that herbs have healing benefits – for fertility, arthritis, diabetes and all sorts of conditions. But when we ingest these agents into our bodies as medicine in different amounts, sometimes we damage other vital organs such as the liver and kidneys.
“So what I did was I picked out some plants that looked promising, like chandelier – they use it for flu, jaundice and all that – because I wanted to see what effect it had. on the liver, taking it orally, the way your grandmother prepared it.
Taking into account that the liver could regenerate up to a certain point, she discovered that in one type of preparation and in certain doses, the luster protected the liver and, in the case of a damaged liver, helped to reverse the damage.
“The University of the West Indies is an educational institution and I am one of the examples. You can work there and you are allowed to educate yourself once you are ready. My studies were directly related to the work I was doing so I benefited from it on both sides. I obtained my doctorate as a technician.
Before obtaining her doctorate, however, she studied at the University of Toronto, Canada, as a Caricom exchange student and was trained in various pharmacology techniques. She returned in 2009 and was promoted to research technician then, in 2012, she started as a part-time lecturer as part of her training.
She obtained her doctorate in pharmacology in 2013 and remained an associate lecturer and continued her research until 2017, when she obtained a position as a lecturer.
“It was fun. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I love pharmacology, I love biochemistry and I think I’m developing a passion for immunology. And I want to tie all the disciplines together and see what we could bring to society.
Williams-Persad added that her trip to Cuba was enjoyable and eye-opening, leading her to believe that TT and Cuba could mutually benefit from a stronger medical relationship.
She said the Cuban government has invested heavily in medical research, which has resulted in excellent clinicians and health care. She suggested that the Cubans could provide training while TT could help provide them with pharmaceutical drugs.
“TT has great doctors who are well trained but we are trained in a bubble. It’s time to expand. There’s so much going on outside and we’re being left behind.
Additionally, she said she met Cuban TT Ambassador Tania Diego Olite when she went to pick up her tourist visa and she too believed that countries could work together to improve health care in both countries.
They would like to see more interaction because, later this year, Cuba will host a trade fair called Health For All, as well as the Cuban Health 2022 international convention, which Williams-Persad hopes to form a delegation of clinicians to.