About me

Juman Hijab

Juman Hijab, MD MPH. Life's Chemistry Press.

Thinking like a physician to  explain Life's Molecules 

How does being a clinician and chemistry fit together? It is similar to other professions that work closely together; for example, architects and engineers. To be a better physician, I had to understand how drugs worked at the molecular level. I also started to question whether things made sense.

From clinical work to chemistry

For example, prostate cells dump a lot of zinc into the semen. But as they become cancerous, they are less prone to do this. Does taking in more zinc help prevent prostate cancer

My lifelong interest has been in the chemistry of living cells. By training, I am a physician, and at heart, I remain a clinician.  For me, producing this work on living atoms and molecules will be worth all the time and effort, if the ideas create new ways of approaching disease.

Making Life's Molecules easier to understand

There are unanswered questions!

  • Why are there only 4 (if you count Uracil, then 5) nucleotides to create the genetic building blocks of life? Why not 6 or 8?
  • Fog difficult to see through even though it is made of minute water droplets. How do we explain this, since water is clear.
  •  How can a proton (an electron-less hydrogen atom) travel down protein side chains, form proton currents?
  • Arsenic and bromine toxic, but elements very close to it in the Periodic Table (like Selenium) are vital to living systems. Why is Selenium necessary?
  • Some vitamins and biochemical cofactors have part of the genetic code nucleotide molecule in their structure. For example, NAD+/NADP+ and Coenzyme A have adenine embedded inside their molecule. Do we know why?

Life is Chemistry

My goal is to bring together research that explores living and inert molecules.

  • Common threads are developed and explained through brief posts and articles, 
  • There are huge stacks of data. Can one make sense of it? I think so if one looks at common patterns and really understands water.
  • I want to highlight common patterns in nature. Through this, I believe that it is possible to see how things work at the molecular level.  
  • Water - as a vital part of life and nature - has its own huge haystack. Water is the basis for all life. As such, many of the posts and articles are devoted to water in natural systems. 

The story behind Life's Chemistry Press

It all started early in my career, when I was researching the proteins that help glucose go from inside the intestine, across the cells, and into the blood.

The fascinating fact is that those proteins have a concordant orientation. Their carboxyl COOH heads in the apical membrane of the cell face the intestinal lumen (their amine NH2 tails) swim in the cytoplasm.

As if the cells have learned to follow the leader, the proteins in the basement membrane of the cell have the carboxyl COOH heads swimming in the cytoplasm and the amine NH2 tails facing the plasma. It seems that this protein orientation will encourage the glucose molecule to be shuttled from the apical membrane to the cytoplasm, and then from the cytoplasm to the plasma.

A neat system for moving molecules across cells. 

But how do cells do this? What determines the orientation of proteins in membranes? 

I started looking into cancer cells (which have their own patterns of protein orientations) to living ions (and why only certain elements of the periodic table are integrated in living things) to water (the basis of all living things). 

What is my "Why"?

Sometimes there are more questions than there are answers. For me, it was important to understand ions and molecules at their basic level. This is why I have spent an inordinate time on understanding water. Life is all about water. From there, I branched out to atoms and ions. The overarching goal is for me to explain protein receptors in a simple paradigm; many diseases happen at the level of the protein receptors of the cell membranes.  

This is how I have always approached learning. I never like memorizing stuff. I have believed that one can learn concepts from divergent fields in a way that we don’t have to memorize facts.

Do reach out if you have questions about Life's Chemistry Press

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