Karen Symes, PhD

Associate Professor, Biochemistry & Cell Biology

Karen Symes
72 E. Concord St Silvio Conte (K)


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.

Other Positions

  • Assistant Dean, Student Affairs, Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine
  • Graduate Faculty (Primary Mentor of Grad Students), Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, Graduate Medical Sciences


  • National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), PhD
  • University of Sussex, BSc

Classes Taught

  • GMSFC711
  • GMSFC713
  • GMSFC714
  • GMSFC715
  • GMSFC717
  • GMSFC764
  • GMSFC951
  • MEDMS135


  • Published on 9/20/2021

    Simmons JM, Franklin DS, Dahlman KB, Symes K, Viselli SM, Diaz-Cruz ES, Fong SFT, Spicer DB. Teaching Biochemistry to Students of Dentistry, Medicine, and Pharmacy: 8th International Conference of the Association of Biochemistry Educators (ABE) Virtual Conference, May 3-7, 2021. Med Sci Educ. 2021 Dec; 31(6):2125-2128. PMID: 34567835.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 11/15/2019

    Cline SD, Simmons JM, Niederhoffer EC, Cruthirds DL, Arbor SC, Franklin DS, Abali EE, Bateman RC, Fontes JD, Lindsley JE, Rubenstein PA, Symes K, Viselli SM. Teaching Biochemistry to Students of Dentistry, Medicine, and Pharmacy: 7th International Conference of the Association of Biochemistry Educators (ABE) Tucson, AZ, USA, May 5-9, 2019. Med Sci Educ. 2020 Mar; 30(1):585-589. PMID: 34457706.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 4/3/2018

    Park HY, Berkowitz O, Symes K, Dasgupta S. The art and science of selecting graduate students in the biomedical sciences: Performance in doctoral study of the foundational sciences. PLoS One. 2018; 13(4):e0193901. PMID: 29614110.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 4/28/2016

    Gallan AJ, Offner GD, Symes K. Vertical integration of biochemistry and clinical medicine using a near-peer learning model. Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2016 Nov 12; 44(6):507-516. PMID: 27123831.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 3/4/2015

    Dasgupta S, Symes K, Hyman L. Leading change: curriculum reform in graduate education in the biomedical sciences. Biochem Mol Biol Educ. 2015 Mar-Apr; 43(2):126-32. PMID: 25735833.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 5/10/2014

    Abali EE, Osheroff N, Buxbaum E, Niederhoffer EC, Symes K, Sanders M. Evolving Role of the Basic Science Course Director in an Integrated Curriculum. Medical Science Educator. 2014.

    Read at: Custom
  • Published on 3/1/2011

    Liu KW, Feng H, Bachoo R, Kazlauskas A, Smith EM, Symes K, Hamilton RL, Nagane M, Nishikawa R, Hu B, Cheng SY. SHP-2/PTPN11 mediates gliomagenesis driven by PDGFRA and INK4A/ARF aberrations in mice and humans. J Clin Invest. 2011 Mar; 121(3):905-17. PMID: 21393858.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 10/1/2010

    Symes K, Smith EM, Mitsi M, Nugent MA. Sweet cues: How heparan sulfate modification of fibronectin enables growth factor guided migration of embryonic cells. Cell Adh Migr. 2010 Oct-Dec; 4(4):507-10. PMID: 20562530.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 12/4/2009

    Smith EM, Mitsi M, Nugent MA, Symes K. PDGF-A interactions with fibronectin reveal a critical role for heparan sulfate in directed cell migration during Xenopus gastrulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Dec 22; 106(51):21683-8. PMID: 19966216.

    Read at: PubMed
  • Published on 9/1/2009

    Wu H, Symes K, Seldin DC, Dominguez I. Threonine 393 of beta-catenin regulates interaction with Axin. J Cell Biochem. 2009 Sep 1; 108(1):52-63. PMID: 19565571.

    Read at: PubMed

View 24 more publications: View full profile at BUMC

View all profiles