Tanziyah Muqeem, MD, PhD, had a long-standing passion for the brain and neuroscience that has grown over time. She studied communication between neurons as an undergraduate student, then focused her studies in this area for her PhD in Neuroscience. Now she is a second year resident in Duke’s Neurology Department, where she practices her neurology exam in her clinical work and hones her scientific skills in the lab of Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD. For this week’s Spotlight interview, Muqeem talks about this growing passion, her plans for the future, and her love of reading, writing, and podcasting when not at Duke.
What are your current responsibilities as a Junior Resident Assistant? What does a typical day look like for you?
As a JAR or PGY2 Neurology Resident, we begin our journey towards learning all aspects of Neurology. Before that, we spent a whole year learning general medicine, so this is our first opportunity to really immerse ourselves in our area of interest. The year consists primarily of inpatient rotations that include stroke service, general service, outpatient service, and night float. We are also exposed to various areas of neurology through outpatient and elective internships.
Our primary responsibility is to learn the ins and outs of neurological examination, localization and formulation of in-depth differential diagnoses. A typical day depends on rotation, but inpatient services consist of rounds in the morning followed by admissions, teaching and taking care of patient needs in the afternoon.
How and when did you first become interested in neurology? What disciplines or aspects of the field interest you the most?
As far as I can remember, I have always had a strong interest in the brain. In college, I was fascinated by the way neurons communicated with each other to produce complex movements, sensory experiences, and thoughts. I deepened this interest during my thesis. By the time I arrived at my clinical internships in medical school, I knew I wanted to choose a clinical area that would allow me to explore the brain and nervous system even more and neurology was the perfect fit.
The neurological exam is what attracted me to the field. It is unique in its ability to provide a large amount of information through various maneuvers and tests. Many neurologists I have had the opportunity to work with are master clinicians in the art of physical diagnosis. I am very interested at this point in pursuing a career in movement disorders, but I am still exploring the many other disciplines of neurology!
What are your plans after your residency? If you could have a job in the world, which one would it be?
After residency, I will likely pursue a scholarship to hone my skills in a specific sub-field and gain additional time for research in my area of interest. My ideal job as a neurologist would be one that combines patient care and research activities. I’m ultimately interested in pushing the boundaries of our knowledge of the nervous system and its diseases, as well as proposing new ways to treat and alleviate conditions that affect the brain.
In addition to your medical degree, you also have a doctorate from Thomas Jefferson University. What was the goal of this work and how does it complement your clinical interests?
My doctorate was in neuroscience and I studied pain signaling. In particular, I examined how voltage-gated potassium channels regulate synaptic signaling between pain pathway neurons. Previous lab work had identified a specific potassium channel that contributes to action potential morphology in dorsal root ganglion neurons (the first neuron in the pain pathway).
My work expanded on this earlier work to show that the specific potassium channel that we had studied also modulates the transmission of information to the next neuron in the pain pathway (in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord). The implication of this work is that this channel may ultimately be a good target for the treatment of neuropathic pain. If we can identify specific molecular targets that can regulate pain signaling, we can design better therapies for pain.
This work allowed me to really appreciate the complexity of the nervous system. I continue to be interested in how neurons communicate to produce normal behavior and how these pathways can go wrong and cause disease in the nervous system.
As part of your residency, you are involved in the laboratory of Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD. What is the object of this work?
I was lucky enough to be able to connect at the start of my training with Dr Kafui Dzirasa. He has made many important contributions to our understanding of the neural circuits that underlie emotions, mood, and behavior. I am interested in better understanding these same processes in neurological diseases, and I intend to focus on models of movement disorders.
Many diseases we see in neurology can result from abnormal circuitry and neural communication, especially those we see in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Tourette’s disease, dyskinesias, and dystonia. There is also a fundamental contribution of mood and emotion to many of the symptoms we see in these patients, and I would like to study the underlying circuit mechanisms.
Earlier this year, you completed your internal medicine residency at the Duke Department of Medicine. What is a memory or experience from this time that you find particularly precious?
Difficult to retain only one memory or experience of my internship year! I have had the incredible good fortune to work with talented, intelligent and driven people, which has really enhanced my experience as an internal medicine intern. It was a steep learning curve, but being surrounded by humble and compassionate people was well worth it. From the Starbucks and Subway Night Races during the Cardiology Night Tank to the Virtual Internal Medicine Party where the chefs performed a very original and hilarious choreographed dance, it was a truly memorable experience.
What other passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
I really enjoy writing poetry and fiction. I also love to read, mainly fantasy novels as well as non-fiction. I love listening to podcasts on various topics and that’s how I get the majority of my news!
In this photo, Muqeem and her husband are enjoying Carolina Beach.