Beyond Challenges: Biological Sciences and Civic Engagement

Nasrin Taei is being recognized as a Champion of Change for leading education and employment efforts in science, technology, engineering and math for Americans with disabilities.


I aspire to use the opportunities provided to me by this great nation to make scientific advances for the benefit of others. My passion in science led me to explore the astonishing world of biochemistry and how it influences millions of lives each day. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart-related abnormality, is the most common cause of sudden death in young athletes at sporting events. Oftentimes, there are no warning signs. As a contributor to Professor Douglas Root’s University of North Texas biological sciences investigative team, I have developed a model peptide system that can serve to test potential candidate drugs that ameliorate the structural effects of heart-disease-causing mutations such as HCM and to characterize the mutations causing this disease. 

My experiments make use of sophisticated spectroscopy measurements of resonance energy transfer, to help gauge the accuracy of computational simulations of protein dynamics. I use these methods to measure precisely the stability changes in this protein following the addition of such compounds as antibodies that bind to the affected region. I hope to find a small molecule drug that will change the stability of this part of the myosin protein to counteract the destabilizing effects of the disease-causing mutations. Other members of my laboratory will use techniques such as force spectroscopy and single-molecule assays to further investigate the compounds that I screen, providing a more complete picture of the actions of these compounds. My goal is to have at least one of these compounds save the lives of some of the people affected by HCM. 

A different chapter of my life started when I immigrated to the United States. Many challenges and opportunities soon unfolded. Facing these with my then-limited English skills and meek financial means made me into a person willing to help, and sympathize with others. I was grateful for the existence of the ADA accommodations I have experienced during my university studies. I was inspired by those who provided me with opportunities to demonstrate my abilities, and am resolved to serve in the same way by leading others to achieve their dreams. As I progressed in my studies, I was encouraged to be a tutor in the STEM areas at a local community college. Teaching a variety of different types of learners gave me an opportunity to develop my own understanding of the material. I encountered a good number of students--many with language challenges, different learning styles, and a range of disabilities. I sought to inspire them to try their best and realize they should not give up when challenged.

Staying involved in community activities offers me a way to reach out to others. My passion for singing and playing music began at an early age and allowed me a way to express myself artistically in civic settings. I was president of my high school choir and am an experienced tempo (drum) and sitar musician. I am a member of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society. I am convinced that educating society through personal example is the strongest way to build community. In conjunction with my efforts toward students, staff, and faculty at UNT, I also have offered STEM-oriented presentations to area high school students with disabilities. This five week, on-campus program allows students to learn key abilities such as independent living skills and job skills. Our goal was to help them become better career decision makers.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to the White House Champions of Change program for this recognition. The years of encouragement from my friends, family, and UNT have motivated me to try my best. I would especially like to thank Ms. Rebecca Cagle (UNT Assistive Technologies Coordinator) for walking me through so many challenges and for being so supportive, as well as recommending me for this recognition. Professor Root created an opportunity for me to contribute to his investigative team and provided me with immeasurable support and mentorship. His belief in me has allowed me to demonstrate my abilities and enabled me to flourish. By taking advantage of the educational opportunities in the United States of America, I feel that I am making a difference that will improve people’s lives. My colleagues are important in helping me make this difference. The world will become a better place as more people accept the challenge to use our opportunities to improve the lives of those in need.

Nasrin Taei, a University of North Texas (UNT) Biochemistry graduate student, is developing a model peptide system to investigate the effects of mutations that cause sudden cardiac arrest in young adults.

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