Feature Stories 2023: Ramina Behzad '25: Turning her passion into life-changing research

Feature Stories 2023: Ramina Behzad '25: Turning her passion into life-changing research
Ramina Behzad '25: Turning her passion into life-changing research

Ramina Behzad grew up in Tehran, Iran before coming to UMass Dartmouth to pursue her PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology.

Ramina Behzad grew up in Tehran, Iran before coming to UMass Dartmouth to pursue her PhD in Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology. Her longtime interest in genetics suddenly became personal upon learning that diabetes, one of the most prevalent diseases worldwide, runs in her family. Leaving behind her home and parents, Ramina came to UMassD in 2020 to join Professor Lamya Karim's lab and conduct research on diabetes. 

Here, she found community, mentorship, and an environment that supports and empowers women in STEM. Ramina's research won her first prize in the 2023 Three Minute Thesis competition. 

Out of everywhere in the world, why did you choose UMass Dartmouth for your PhD? 

"Before coming to the U.S., I knew I wanted to be in Massachusetts because it is a hub of bioengineering research and education, and there is an abundance of pharmaceutical jobs in Massachusetts."  

How did you become interested in biomedical engineering? 

"When I was in high school, I saw an ad for personalized skincare based on genetics, and I was fascinated by the possibility of having products and medicines specific to your genes. I majored in genetics in my undergraduate studies."  

What is most exciting to you about your field?  

"I think it is interesting how biomedical knowledge changes the way you think about the body. The things we study have direct implications for ourselves and the people in our lives. For me, it has motivated me to take better care of myself. For example, as a biomedical engineer, I have a deeper understanding of what it means for something to be ‘carcinogenic,’ and it influences the choices I make about my health and diet."  


What is the topic of your research? 

"When I came to UMassD, I met Dr. Karim and learned about her research concerning diabetes and bone fractures. Her work struck a chord with me because both of my parents are diabetic. Having that personal connection made me more interested in working in her lab.  

"My research explores the link between physical activity and diabetes. When a patient has diabetes, doctors may prescribe medicine as well as changes in diet and exercise habits. While many people associate diabetes with diet, the role of physical activity is sometimes dismissed. I wanted to conduct experiments to learn if physical activity has a measurable effect on diabetes and related problems like bone fractures.  

"I used irisin, a newly discovered protein, to test my hypothesis. Irisin occurs naturally in the body during exercise, but it can also be manufactured for research purposes." 

Ramina's research won her the first-place $1,000 cash prize and the People's Choice award in the graduate student category of the 2023 Three Minute Thesis Competition.


What do you hope this research will accomplish? What kind of an impact do you hope to have on the world? 

"I’m excited to see the results – of course, it all depends on the results. My hypothesis is that physical activity has positive effects on diabetic patients’ outcomes. I hope to share our insights with the biomedical community and possibly create a new form of treatment for diabetic patients. If the hypothesis proves correct, then irisin could potentially be produced in pill form and used as an alternative diabetes treatment for those who are not capable of getting enough physical activity."  

Tell us about your experience working with faculty on your research 

"Having a good mentor and advisor is so important as a PhD student. Dr. Karim is incredibly supportive and responsive. Conducting research as a PhD student is difficult and can be very emotional, especially when experiments 'fail.' Dr. Karim helped me through those times. I'm not afraid to bring my failures to her, or to admit when I've made mistakes in the lab. She does not criticize her students but instead gives us permission to make mistakes and learn from them."  

PhD biomedical engineering student Ramina Behzad in the lab

Tell us about your experience moving to the U.S. from Iran 

"I came to the U.S. in January of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was a scary time for everyone, but it was especially isolating as an international student who had just arrived in a new country.  

"I have two older sisters who also live in the U.S., but I didn’t see my parents for three years after leaving Iran. They finally joined us here in the U.S. six months ago and it was one of the best days of my life seeing them after such a long time! 

"I am a member of the Iranian Students and Scholars Association, which provides a great sense of community here on campus. It gives Iranian students at UMassD the opportunity to connect with one another and to share our culture with the rest of the campus community." 

What do you enjoy most about UMass Dartmouth? 

“I love all the events on campus! I especially love events that give me an opportunity to meet other international students and learn about other cultures. There’s always something happening on campus at UMassD.”  

Ramina Behzad and Parya Teymoory at the 2023 End of Year Splash at Birch Grill

Are there any causes outside of your academic work that are important to you? 

"Being a woman in STEM is very meaningful for me. I come from a place where women are underestimated, and where they have to fight for a voice in society. Seeing women as leaders in engineering – formerly thought to be a men’s field – is very exciting to me."  

What advice would you give to students, especially young women, who are interested in STEM? 

"Trust your inner voice if there's something you're passionate about. And, be prepared to challenge yourself. If you don’t try difficult things, you’ll never grow. You don’t know how much you can do until you put yourself in a challenging situation."  

What are you most proud of? 

"I am proud of myself as a woman, as an immigrant, and as an international student. I chose a challenging path, but it makes all the successes I have along the way that much more rewarding."