McFarland Impact: 'Doors open because of donors' incredible generosity'

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Rayz Khoury was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq, where his childhood was a bit different than most because of a congenital heart valve problem that kept him from being as physically active as he wished. Instead, he developed a love for learning, which has continued even though he had corrective heart surgery in the seventh grade.

After his family’s move to Nashville almost five years ago, Khoury visited Lipscomb University to interview for a job at Starbucks. He did not get the job, but pictured himself as a student after seeing the beautiful campus and later enrolled as a molecular biology major.

In Dr. Beth Conway’s genetics class Khoury found himself drawn to research. Khoury was especially motivated because his aunt had been diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and died only three months later. Conway, associate professor of biology, was guiding students in breast cancer research among other projects.

“Her passion is contagious. I began learning and reading about her [research] project, then begged to be a part of it,” Khoury said.

Khoury was among several students whose 2013 summer research work was supported by the prestigious Langford-Yates Endowment for the Advancement of Science, a donor-supported endowed fund at Lipscomb.

The students hypothesized that a protein, CD10, blocks breast cancer invasion but cancer cells silence CD10 by tagging the gene’s DNA with methyl groups. Khoury discovered that a leukemia drug, AZA, prevented the methyl addition, suggesting a possible therapy for breast cancer.

“Rayz has been an outstanding researcher and student. He has worked incredibly hard and gone above and beyond the undergraduate standard,” Conway said. “We’ve been really blessed by the Langford-Yates scholarship in our department. It is a tremendous asset to us to be able to invite some of our top students to do research with us in the summer.”

Khoury says he feels blessed to have been a Langford-Yates recipient. He said his experience that summer was an incredible time of learning, growing, and discovering—in the lab and in life.

“That a smaller school like Lipscomb University can afford to do big research and complex techniques, like what we did over the summer, is a direct testament to the many doors that open up thanks to the incredible generosity of our donors,” Khoury said. “I want the donors to know how much I truly appreciate them. Their generosity has allowed for me and countless other students to expand our horizons as we learn and discover.”

Khoury will enroll this July at Louisville Dental School after graduating from Lipscomb,  but his interest in cancer research remains strong.

“I feel I can help people being a dentist, and I can help people being a scientist,” Khoury said.


In the photo: Rayz Khoury participates in breast cancer research as a Langford-Yates Fellow during summer 2013 under the direction of Dr. Beth Conway.