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Thursday 21 September 2023,

Samira Kiani
Assistant Professor, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering
M.D., Tehran University of Medical Sciences (Iran)

For the last few years Samira Kiani has been working at the intersection of genome engineering and synthetic biology. Now as a new faculty member in the Fulton Schools of Engineering she is hoping to further meld those disciplines to develop the next generation of gene therapies in the fight against cancer.

Kiani_Samira_8054b-wKiani is an assistant professor in the School for Biological and Health Systems Engineering. She is joining ASU from the Center for Synthetic Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Originally from Iran, she earned her M.D. from Tehran University of Medical Sciences.

Kiani joined ASU this January, along with her husband Mo Ebrahimkhani. He also joined SBHSE as an assistant professor with a focus on synthetic biology and regenerative medicine.

Kiani’s research has been in the area of gene editing or gene modulation, with a particular focus on custom DNA binding proteins in human cells. Her focus grew dramatically with the development of the Clustered Regularly Interspaced short Palindromic Repeats or CRISPR.

Kiani says the CRISPR method, developed extensively in the last few years, made the customization of the binding proteins extremely flexible and made the technology of gene manipulation more accessible to labs and researchers around the world.

“I am interested in developing gene editing or gene modulation tools that can specifically act in cancer cells or any cell type of interest,” she said. “It can either lead us to kill cancer cells directly or attract the immune system to these cells so the immune system can recognize these and kill them more effectively.”

Kiani says she was drawn to ASU due to the interdisciplinary nature of the research and the growing focus on the intersection of medicine and engineering. Additionally, she sees a growing community in synthetic biology. She expects the long-term growth in this area at ASU to rival any in the country.

“My background is medicine and I like to develop tools that have therapeutic potential and based on need,” she said. “I want to be around people who have engineering background to be able to combine this with their expertise.”

Ultimately, Kiani’s research has a very personal connection and motivation. In December, as she was making the move to ASU, her father passed away from pancreatic cancer.

“He was battling bravely for the last two years,” she said. “It basically shifted my interest from pure synthetic biology to apply it to cancer. I have seen firsthand how it can affect a patient. So I am not only a scientist, but a patient advocate.”


Ebrahimkhani_Mo_8045bw-sm Mo Ebrahimkhani
Assistant Professor, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering
M.D., Tehran University of Medical Sciences (Iran)

Ebrahimkhani joins ASU from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His interdisciplinary research focuses on systematically understanding the principles of tissue repair and organ regeneration in vitro and in vivo. He combines synthetic biology and human stem cells to engineer novel multicellular systems and personalized human tissue models.


Emma Frow
Assistant Professor, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering
Ph.D., University of Cambridge (England)

Frow holds a joint appointment in the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes. She has graduate training in both natural and social sciences. Her research focuses on standards development and governance in contemporary life sciences, with a particular focus on biological engineering and synthetic biology.


Michael Van Auker
School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering


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