Samia Ismail

student in labIn 2019, biomedical engineering major Samia Ismail earned a coveted Truman Scholarship, awarded to the brightest students in the nation dedicated to public service.

Even though she is earning an engineering degree, Samia ultimately plans to pursue a joint M.D./Master of Public Health degree, and become a practicing physician and healthcare policy advisor to legislators and executive officials.

She has her sights set on the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, but first, she has accepted a policy research fellowship at the Federal Office for Rural Health Policy in the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., where she will help research the most efficient ways for implementing certain federal health policies.

For her honors thesis project, Samia worked with Dr. Raj Rao in his cellular and tissue engineering lab. Dr. Rao’s work focuses on methods for extracting stem cells from patients, differentiating them into smooth muscle cells, and reinserting them into the body to repair tissue damage, such as that caused by heart attacks or cardiovascular disease.

Samia’s own research, for which she was awarded an Honors College Research Grant, furthers this goal by comparing the genetic expression of stem cells to that of the smooth muscle cells into which they are transformed.

“I’m comparing their genomes to make sure that those two cell types are completely different from one another,” she explained; “that, for instance, they’re not halfway differentiating to smooth muscle cells and then just giving up, and that their genotype and phenotype are in fact matching what real smooth muscle cells look like."