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Kayarash Karimian ’14

Probing the future from the molecular level

Kayarash KarimianOftentimes you have to study something’s origins before you can fully understand its destiny. Kayarash Karimian ’14 loves to unravel these mysteries.

Karimian traces his origins to Tehran, Iran, where he lived until moving to northern Kentucky with his father before his freshman year in high school. From an early age he had a passion for the sciences. When he enrolled at Transylvania University, he was prepared to study medicine, but one lecture in biology professor Belinda Sly’s class changed his path.

“I remember her putting up a slide about Hox genes (a gene that directs development of an organism), and it was such a fascinating thing to see how, at the molecular genetic level, there are so many different manifestations of developmental patterns,” he said. “It’s so amazing to me that everyone starts out as one cell. From that one cell, you develop the body plane that you have and the person you are and the brain that you have. Understanding the processes that lead to the formation of the organism will help us in understanding many different areas of biology.”

Like that one cell, Karimian’s decision to study at Transylvania started the process of his development as a researcher and took him all over the country. He quickly focused his attention on molecular genetics, and he turned to Sly to help him find research opportunities in the relatively new field.

After his first year, he earned a National Science Foundation undergraduate research position at North Carolina State University, and following his sophomore year, he was selected for a prestigious Amgen Scholars Program placement at Stanford University, where he studied the immunology of fruit flies. In the summer after his junior year and throughout his senior year, he did liver cancer research at the University of Kentucky. He sequenced the homeobox gene zhx-2—which has been shown to be involved in liver cancer—in lampreys and zebra fish.

While much of his research took place away from the Transylvania campus, Karimian gives the bulk of credit for his undergraduate success to his time at Transylvania building relationships with his professors and becoming a strong writer and communicator.

“At Stanford we had exit interviews where they told us why they selected us, and they told me that my letters of recommendation and my essays were so important,” he said. “The education at Transylvania and the relationships I had with my professors helped me talk with other researchers, and I realized my education was comparable to that of students coming from many other larger institutions. We do a very good job of transcending academics—Transylvania is so much about living that liberated life we always talk about.”

Karimian was accepted to Johns Hopkins University’s Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology graduate program, where he plans to study developmental biology and molecular genetics. He wants to work with stem cells or cancer biology and eventually combine his love for teaching and research as a professor. He got his first taste of teaching as an August Term Scholar with education professor Amy El-Hindi Trail, which he called one of his “favorite moments at Transylvania.”

“You learn so much at this university without realizing it,” he said. “It’s such a supportive community. It’s not always about textbook knowledge, but it’s about [learning to] communicate with people from so many different backgrounds. You begin to understand the views of people from different disciplines and perspectives, and I’ve really enjoyed that.

“I’m really excited to call this university my home. I’m so proud and happy that I chose it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

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