Syed Nurul Alam, 70, a prominent member of the area's Bangladeshi community and a retired toxicologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, died June 16 at Washington Hospital Center after post-cardiac surgery. He had heart disease.
Dr. Alam, a Potomac resident, was born in 1934 on a train traveling between the Indian provinces of Assam and East Bengal. He spent his childhood on a tea plantation in the Darjeeling region of India. When India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947, his family initially stayed in India, but increasing sectarian strife compelled them to move to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, the next year.
After his parents died during his adolescence, Dr. Alam paid for his education by winning numerous scholarships. He graduated at the top of his class from Dhaka University in East Pakistan and won a prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship in 1960. The scholarship -- comparable to a Rhodes Scholarship -- gave him the opportunity to finish his doctoral studies in organic chemistry at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
After teaching and research stints at Dhaka University, Gottingen University in Germany and McMaster University, he returned to Pakistan in 1970. He intended to settle permanently in Pakistan and educate a new generation of university students, but with the outbreak of the civil war that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh, he and his family were forced to flee. They settled in the United States in 1971.
After seven years at the University of Iowa as a researcher, he joined the FDA in 1978. He worked primarily in the dermatology division, reviewing pharmaceutical applications. He was known at the FDA for his expertise in the toxicological effects of retinoids, vitamin A derivatives that include Accutane and Soriatane. He retired in 1998.
With a number of friends, former classmates and members of the local Bangladeshi community, which numbers 5,000 to 10,000, he helped establish the Bangladesh Association of America in the early 1970s. The association became the social and cultural core of the community. Between 1982 and 1988, he served as vice president, president and chairman of the advisory council.
Survivors include his wife of 46 years, Rashida Alam of McLean; three children, Runa Alam of Washington, John Alam of Cambridge, Mass., and Tony Alam of Falls Church; and five grandchildren.