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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A graduate of Central High School is now a scientist at Penn Medicine who’s starting the semester with his own prestigious lab, some federal grant money, and big dreams about making an impact.

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“Can a worm feel pain? Can a fly feel pain?” questioned Ishmail Abdus-Saboor.

These are the things Abdus-Saboor thinks about in his new lab at Penn.

“I’m a molecular neurobiologist, which means I’m interested, ultimately, in how our nervous system works,” he said.

His focus is on finding better treatments for pain that will hopefully ease the opioid epidemic someday.

It’s a lofty goal that started on the third-floor of a house in Germantown where he set up a lab when he was in ninth-grade.

“I got to design experiments, carry them out, and make observations,” said Abdus-Saboor.

He won first place in the city science fair. At Central High School, he was a popular, stand-out student on the basketball team.

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He likes to think of himself as the cool kid, science geek.

Now a post-doctoral fellow, after years of education and training, he has his own lab.

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“It’s very exciting to have my dreams finally come to fruition in the form of my own lab,” said Abdus-Saboor.

He says it’s the result of hard work, determination, and maybe a little luck.

Now, he is directing other scientists at the lab sponsored by PennPort that comes with a $1 million NIH grant.

He is aiming for a breakthrough in pain management that could help millions, one experiment at a time.

“Science is all about persistence and dedication,” explained Abdus-Saboor.

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In addition to his lab, he is also an assistant professor of biology at Penn.