Karen Symes

Associate Professor
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs

Boston University School of Medicine
Silvio Conte Building, K618
72 E. Concord Street
Boston, MA 02118

Phone (Mon, Tue, Thurs): 617-638-4077
Phone (Wed, Fri): 617-638-4196
Lab Phone:
Email: symes@bu.edu


BSc, (HONS) University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
PhD, National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, UK

Educational Interests

I lead the educational mission of the Department of Biochemistry. I chair the Department’s Curriculum Committee and am involved in curriculum development and research, course direction and teaching across the medical campus. In co-Chairing the committee appointed to redesign the GMS first year Ph.D. curriculum, input was sought from across the medical campus with representation from the nineteen Programs and Departments to create a completely new interdisciplinary modular curriculum, Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FiBS). The educational structure was set up to encourage students to think in a rigorous and interdisciplinary fashion and involved reducing lecture hours and incorporating weekly small group discussions to critically evaluate scientific literature and workshops to practice the use of emerging technologies. Small groups are “near-peer” facilitated and composed of students with different scientific interests to provide a range of perspectives and to promote collegiality among doctoral students. In addition, to provide essential foundational skills required for lifelong learning and career development, critical thinking, problem solving, class participation and scientific writing are included in the evaluation process. Individualized oversight and help for students is provided through faculty accessibility, monitoring of performance, and tutoring. I am currently co- Chair the Steering Committee that oversees the FiBS curriculum, monitors student evaluation of the modules and conducts peer reviews. My laboratory focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms of cell motility, an essential component of normal biological processes such as embryonic development and wound healing, as well as critical in disease development and progression, and I am now co-Course director for the fourth core FiBS module, Mechanisms of Cell Communication.

In addition to being an Assistant Dean in the medical school’s Office of Student Affairs, I am responsible for coordinating the Biochemistry Departments teaching of medical students. Currently course director of the core first year course Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I am actively involved in the committee charged with the integration of the first year medical curriculum, which is evolving into an interdisciplinary modular design similar to FiBS.

Research Themes


Representative Publications


  • Leading change: curriculum reform in graduate education in the biomedical sciences.Dasgupta S, Symes K, Hyman L. Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2015 Mar-Apr;43(2):126-32. doi: 10.1002/bmb.20862. Epub 2015 Mar 4.

  • Abali, E.E., Osheroff, N., Buxbaum, E., Niederhoffer, E.C., Symes, K. and Sanders, M. (2014). Evolving Role of the Basic Science Course Director in an Integrated Curriculum. Medical Science Educator, DOI 10.1007/s40670-014-0047-9

  • SHP-2/PTPN11 mediates gliomagenesis driven by PDGFRA and INK4A/ARF aberrations in mice and humans. Liu KW, Feng H, Bachoo R, Kazlauskas A, Smith EM, Symes K, Hamilton RL, Nagane M, Nishikawa R, Hu B, Cheng SY. J Clin Invest. 2011 Mar;121(3):905-17. doi: 10.1172/JCI43690.
  • Sweet cues: How heparan sulfate modification of fibronectin enables growth factor guided migration of embryonic cells. Symes K, Smith EM, Mitsi M, Nugent MA.Cell Adh Migr. 2010 Oct-Dec;4(4):507-10.
  • Smith, E.M., Mitsi, M., Nugent, M.A., and Symes, K. (2009). PDGF-A Interactions With Fibronectin Reveal A Critical Role For Heparan Sulfate In Directed Cell Migration During Xenopus Gastrulation, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 106:21683-21688; Epub Dec 4, 2009.
  • Wu, H., Symes. K., Seldin, D.C., and Dominguez, I. (2009). Threonine residue 393 regulates β-catenin interaction with axin. J. Cell Biochem. 108, 52-63.
  • Malikova, M.A., Van Stry, M. and Symes, K. (2007). Apoptosis regulates notochord development in Xenopus. Dev. Biol. 311, 434–448.
  • Ren, R., Nagel, M. Tahinci, E. Winklbauer, R. and Symes, K. (2006). Migrating anterior mesoderm cells and intercalating axial mesoderm cells have distinct responses to Rho and Rac during Xenopus gastrulation. Dev. Dyn. 235, 1090-1099.
  • Van Stry, M., Kazlauskas, A., Schreiber, S.L., and Symes, K. (2005). Distinct Effectors Of PDGFR? Signaling Are Required For Cell Survival During Embryogenesis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci, 102, 8233-8238.
  • Van Stry, M., McLaughlin, K.A., Ataliotis, P. and Symes, K. (2004). The mitochondrial-apoptotic pathway is triggered in Xenopus mesoderm cells deprived of PDGF receptor signaling during gastrulation. Dev. Biol. 268, 232-242.
  • Nagel, T., Tahinci, E., Symes, K. and Winklbauer, R. (2004). Platelet derived growth factor signaling controls the directed migration of head mesoderm cells in Xenopus laevis embryos. Development 131, 2727-2736.
  • Tahinci, E. and Symes, K. (2003) Distinct functions of Rho and Rac are required for convergent extension during Xenopus gastrulation. Dev. Biol. 259, 318-335