Alumni of Note

Behind the scenes

AbdulRazaq Sokoro
By Derrick Kunz

After you have a blood sample drawn, a whole lot needs to happen between the time your bandage gets put on and your doctor’s office calls to share results.

Enter AbdulRazaq Sokoro (PhD’07), a clinical biochemist, and his team of technologists. “I oversee hospital lab tests, ensure quality of the tests and provide an interpretation of results to physicians. The physician then uses that information to treat the patient,” Sokoro said. “Sometimes physicians are faced with a disease they don’t know how to tackle, and I will advise them on what tests to order. So, I act as a consultant to physicians as well.” He added there is a section of the laboratory that does toxic screening, but “the CSI aspect of forensic toxicology in Canada is mainly done by the RCMP.”

In 1999, Sokoro came to Canada from Kenya, joining his wife and children who previously immigrated to Canada. He was accepted in the post-graduate diploma program at the University of Saskatchewan’s Toxicology Centre two years later. Despite challenges finding a supervisor for his graduate studies, his persistence paid off. “Dr. Blakely [a veterinary toxicologist] didn’t hesitate to offer me a position in the toxicology program, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity he gave me.” Sokoro was successfully paired with a supervisor in the Saskatchewan Disease Control Laboratory, and he was able to transfer to the centre’s master of science program and subsequently into the PhD program.

Conducting his research in Regina, Sokoro’s thesis offered valuable new insights into fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD). “We all know alcohol, specifically ethanol, affects fetal brain development causing abnormal changes in brain chemistry that affects brain growth and development,” explained Sokoro. “Methenol, which is in every alcoholic beverage, is actually more toxic than ethanol.”

Sokoro investigated how folic acid—a vitamin B anti-oxidant found in green leafy vegetables, red meat and many fortified foods such as cereal—effectively assists in the metabolism of methanol. “If your body is deficient in folic acid, you won’t be able to detoxify effectively.” Binge drinkers build-up a particularly high level of methanol, so they need a high level of folic acid to metabolize the toxic substance. Sokoro purported folic acid could help protect developing fetuses against harmful effects “to a certain degree. The best protection is abstinence from alcohol.”

Post-doctoral training directed Sokoro east to Manitoba, and he currently serves as a clinical biochemist for Diagnostic Services of Manitoba—a provincial crown corporation that provides over 10 million tests annually for hospitals in Manitoba—and is an assistant professor for both internal medicine and pathology with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba.

Reflecting on his career so far, Sokoro stated, “All you need is one break. After that, the sky is the limit for your ambitions.”

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