Science Faculty Spotlight: Maral Tajerian

December 13, 2021

Maral Tajerian

Dr. Maral Tajerian is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Queens College, and a faculty member of the CUNY Graduate Center Biology Ph.D. program. The CUNY community welcomed Dr. Tajerian when she joined us in 2018.

Dr. Tajerian grew up in Lebanon and was awarded her Bachelor’s degree in Biology with a minor in Psychology at the American University of Beirut. Throughout her degree, she became interested in the intersection between biology and psychology, or neuroscience. This led her to obtain her Master’s degree at McGill University, in Canada. Here, she studied how central ganglia control courtship and mating in the common garden snail. Afterwards, she was interested in transitioning to work with more translational research with a clinical focus. Thanks to the fortuitous timing of the opening of the Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, she was able to stay at McGill for her Ph.D. Her Ph.D thesis work revolved around chronic back pain. Initially, she focused on peripheral mechanisms but later evolved this work to determine how chronic back pain affects and changes the brain; a concept that she is continuously fascinated by! After completing her Ph.D at McGill, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in the Veterans Affairs Office where she continued researching various pain conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome and traumatic brain injury.

Now as an Assistant Professor at Queens College, Dr. Tajerian and her lab continue to dissect out the intricate mechanisms involved in brain plasticity when it comes to chronic pain. Her lab is multifaceted and has a plethora of exciting projects ranging from molecular, behavioral, and then to more of an engineering and innovation focus.

Dr. Tajerian’s lab has taken on a more integrative approach to determine how neurons, glia and the extracellular matrix (ECM) change in those with chronic pain. She is the recent recipient of an NIH grant in which the primary focus is to dissect out the dynamic role of the ECM in the context of chronic pain, and how ECM plasticity regulates the crosstalk between neurons and glia in the brain. Another interest of the lab is pursuing the idea that there is a strong autoimmune component by which injuries and pain in the periphery affect the brain. For this project, her lab has recently acquired a laser speckle imager. This is an imager that allows them to see if there are changes in brain perfusion during pain, findings from which may suggest why some areas of the brain are more adaptable than others. Excitingly, her lab is working on a new innovation, a “paw imager.” This will quantify the level of inflammation in a mouse paw based on redness, temperature, and visual swelling. She has found that this is a great way to increase undergraduate researcher activity in the lab! This is an open-source project that she hopes will be able to be translated to humans.

Outside of running her lab, Dr. Tajerian has a multitude of exciting projects with a strong social focus underway! She is the co-founder of Thwacke, a science-media consulting company. She is also an active mentor in the MARC program at Queens College. This program maximizes access to research for students from underrepresented populations. Most recently, Dr. Tajerian has  founded Classy Squirrel, a company that aims to design smart and adaptive clothing for people with chronic pain and other medical conditions where currently marketed clothing may be painful to wear or difficult to put on.

Dr. Tajerian is recruiting graduate students, and postdocs. She is seeking someone who is passionate about brain plasticity, who has a plastic brain (is open-minded), and is not attached to the scientific status quo!

About the authors: Nora Awadallah and Kat Yamamoto are CUNY Biology doctoral students in the Neuroscience and Molecular Cellular Developmental biology subprograms, respectively.

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