Under professor Zabrina Brumme’s mentorship, Hanwei Sudderuddin’s experience completing his honours research project with FHS has helped him launch into a research career with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE).

SFU student’s honours project leads to BC-CfE job

March 16, 2020

By: Geron Malbas

As a curious, keen problem solver who works to better understand HIV molecular virology, Hanwei Sudderuddin’s experiences with the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) have prepared him for his current work with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE). After becoming intrigued with FHS professor Zabrina Brumme’s research upon listening to her speak as a guest for his FHS immunology class, Sudderuddin decided to enroll in her HSCI 478 class (Molecular Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases).

“This was arguably one of the best classes I took during my undergraduate career. The class was very engaging and the content was original and interesting. We learned about everything from DNA sequencing and phylogenetics, to HIV, influenza and neglected tropical diseases,” says Sudderuddin. “After taking the class, I expressed my interest to pursue an honours research project with Dr. Brumme in her molecular virology research laboratory in FHS.”

“He did extremely well in my HSCI 478 class,” Brumme recalls. “At the semester’s end, he asked whether I would be willing to serve as his BSc honours supervisor, and I was very happy to do so.”

His honours research project with FHS involved studying Nef, an HIV protein that plays an important role in HIV pathogenesis. During the course of his honours research project, he longitudinally characterized the genetic and functional evolution of Nef in a single HIV-infected individual (studying 50 unique HIV sequences over the span of more than 10 years) to gain a better understanding of how the HIV Nef protein evolves within an HIV-infected host.

Sudderuddin’s fascination with the public health dimension of molecular biology research, and studying the HIV Nef protein allowed him to help gain a better understanding of the limits of HIV’s adaptability. His hard work led to the publication of his research work in the journal Retrovirology in early 2020.

In addition to his desire to further develop his research skills, Sudderuddin sought to get more involved with and contribute to other research projects with Brumme. The experience also granted him the chance to acquire a myriad of laboratory techniques and data analysis skills during the honours semester.

Upon graduating with a Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Bachelor of Science degree (honours first class with distinction) in 2017, he decided to work as a research assistant with Brumme’s molecular virology laboratory.

“The lab was a diverse and exciting environment to work in, with graduate students and staff from many different backgrounds, including from Kenya and Rwanda. Dr. Brumme’s lab provided excellent support, and as a mentor she was tireless, generous and inspiring,” says Sudderuddin.

When a position at the BC-CfE opened up in 2019, Brumme recruited Sudderuddin into his current position as a research assistant to help set-up a new molecular virology laboratory in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

“He was an outstanding student,” Brumme notes, “So much so that following completion of his BSc, I hired him on as a full-time research assistant. One year later, the laboratory is up and running, we are doing very exciting research.”