The news in 2019 that Dimitrios Camacho ’19 had been accepted into the Molecular and Cell Biology Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley brought tears to his eyes. For good reason.
“What was most impactful was realizing how much I have been helped by the countless people through my failures and challenges. I've had many close calls and I’m thankful for all the amazing people who have taken the time to mentor me,” says Dimitrios, a Biology major at Dominican.
“I’ve always told myself that 90 percent of the struggle is getting into the right mindset and I’ve found that the best way to get into any mindset is to surround myself with people with that mindset. I’ve been fortunate to have that at Dominican, where faculty members are very forward thinking and encourage us not to limit our ambitions.”
The long list of mentors at Dominican includes Dr. Vania Coelho, Dr. Roland Cooper, Dr. Meredith Protas, Dr. Tyler Johnson, Dr. Kate Kalashnikova, and many more in the School of Health and Natural Sciences.
“Everything has just fallen together like a puzzle and it’s been shaped by a lot of the professors here who have been persistent in advising me,” says Dimitrios, whose father, Oscar, ’86 BA ’88 MA also attended Dominican. “Research experience has been absolutely crucial. I could not emphasize that more. My research experience at Dominican definitely helped me a ton.”
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In his first two years of research at Dominican, Dimitrios worked closely with Dr. Coelho, studying how artificial shading mitigates the detrimental effects of thermal bleaching on corals. He presented his group’s research at the West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference. He then started working closely with Dr. Cooper, an expert in malaria research, who has established a long relationship with the UC Berkeley Minority Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) fellowship program, and has mentored many students at his malaria study site in Uganda.
The summer of 2017 Dimitrios attended the SSRP Amgen Scholars program at Stanford, studying the molecular mechanisms of coral symbiosis in Dr. John Pringles' lab under the guidance of Dr. Phillip Cleves. Later that year, he presented his research in a poster titled “Assessing the Effect of Algal Type on the Thermal Tolerance of Aiptasia, a Model for Coral Symbiosis” at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Phoenix, Arizona. His work contributed to an upcoming publication titled: “Varied effects of algal symbionts on transcription factor NF-κB in a sea anemone and a coral: possible roles in symbiosis and thermotolerance."
After being exposed to different tools in molecular biology, Dimitrios worked at Dominican’s NSM department as a work-study stockroom assistant. “I got the opportunity to learn how the faculty at Dominican approached their research questions with different methodologies.”
In the summer of 2018, Dimitrios became the first Dominican student in the UC Berkeley MHIRT fellowship program to conduct malaria research in Malawi, a small landlocked country in southeast Africa. Dimitrios worked with Dr. Karl Seydel from Michigan State University at the University of Malawi College of Medicine’s Molecular and Genomics Core facility based in Blantyre, Malawi. Dimitrios studied asymptomatic Plasmodium infection and its role in maintaining the hidden malaria transmission reservoir. The project focused specifically on developing RT-qPCR tests to quantify infectious male and female Plasmodium gametocytes in patient blood samples.
In his final academic year at Dominican, Dimitrios gave a talk at UC Berkeley’s Global Health International Research Symposium and Dominican’s Science Seminar. He worked on a project to genotype coral algal symbionts guided by Dr. Coelho and Dr. Protas. He hoped to work on similar projects while at Berkeley.
“The scientists at Berkeley have ideas and ambitions that are out of this world, almost. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with them, and I still can’t believe it,” Dimitrios says.
Dimitrios hoped to have the opportunity to rotate in three labs at UC Berkeley, giving him the knowledge and flexibility to learn new biotechnologies.
“My goal is to learn as much as I can about the potential applications of the newest technologies developed at Berkeley," he says. “This is an exciting time to be alive because they have developed powerful tools to answer many unanswered biological questions.”
Dimitrios hoped to work with Dr. David Savage and Dr. Sabeeha Merchant.
“I want to keep my mind open and leave my third option open for a lab with many unanswered questions and potential applications.”
It means Dimitrios is now hard at work for the next 5-7 years to earn his doctorate. Dominican prepared him for that.
“It’s the best-case scenario,” Dimitrios says. “For myself, it’s the best thing that I could ever imagine and pray for or hope for, and it’s what I wanted for a long time.”