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Arnold School of Public Health


I Am Public Health: Karim Johari

December 1, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

Karim Johari is trilingual (Turkish, Farsi, English), but that’s not what makes him an emerging expert on speech and language. The communication sciences and disorders (COMD) doctoral student is interested in something that is very small yet has the potential to have a major impact on public health. Johari’s research focuses on the neural basis of speech and movement deficits in neurodegenerative disorders, particularly Parkinson’s disease.

“I believe that everything in the world has its representation in our brain,” says Johari, who became interested in how healthy brains work compared to damaged or dysfunctional brains during his Bachelor’s in Speech Therapy program in Iran where he grew up. “How can stroke or neurodegenerative disorders affect our abilities to talk or walk?”

These questions led him to complete a Master of Speech Therapy from the same institution (Tehran University of Medical Sciences). He gained further insight into this line of research through his professional experiences. Johari worked as a researcher in a functional neurosurgery research center and served as a faculty member in speech and language pathology at Tabriz University of Medical Sciences, where he also a directed movement and cognitive disorder research lab.

He had been researching Parkinson’s disease for five years and published several papers when he decided a doctoral degree would be the key to further advancing his work. “I had learned a lot about Parkinson’s disease, but without advanced techniques, such as electroencephalography (EEG), I could not study neural mechanisms of speech and movement problems in this disease,” he explains.

Johari chose the Arnold School’s COMD program at USC due to the department’s expertise and resources in the area of neurogenics. “The Speech Neuroscience Lab is a great place for me to gain more knowledge about advanced neuroscience techniques, such as EEG for looking into human brain activity during movement and applying neurostimulation for movement rehabilitation in neurological patients,” he says. “Moreover, investigation of speech and movement disorders in Parkinson’s disease is one of major research lines in the lab. So both the research line and advanced techniques led me to choose USC.”

The lab is led by Johari’s advisor, COMD Assistant Professor Roozbeh Behroozmand, who specializes in researching the neural bases of speech production and motor control in the human brain. Like his mentee, Behroozmand is interested in investigating Parkinson’s disease and advanced techniques such as electrophysiology, functional neuroimaging, and high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation to study sensory-motor mechanisms of speech in healthy individuals and patients with neurological disorders.

“Dr. Behroozmand is a very smart person and helped me a lot to adjust to the new environment in the U.S.,” says Johari. “He is very open for any suggestions about research, and I am really glad that I have the chance to work with him.”

After he completes his doctoral program, Johari plans to continue developing his expertise as a researcher—exploring the neurocognitive processes of movement and speech production. Ideally, he’d like to join a top research organization, such as the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.

He encourages other students to dream big as well. “Think critically, try to criticize common beliefs in your field with scientific methods,” says Johari. “Also, imagination is more important than science! With imagination, you can pursue your dreams and accomplish your goals!”