A student examining a vial of liquid
By Michael Haederle

Science of Life

UNM Undergraduate Biochemistry Program Wins Re-Accreditation

The University of New Mexico School of Medicine’s undergraduate biochemistry program – an important pipeline for premed students applying to the MD degree track – has been re-accredited for seven years.

The re-accreditation by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) runs through 2029, said Karlett Parra, PhD, professor and chair of the UNM Department of Biochemistry & Microbiology. Documentation to support re-accreditation was submitted in September 2022, and word of the renewal came in January 2023.

Undergraduate biochemistry majors benefit from the expertise of the department’s researchers, who study topics as diverse as the role of iron metabolism in colon cancer, obesity and diabetes, breast cancer, kidney disease, the genetics and metabolism driving aging and postmortem radiological imaging, she said.

“It’s not typical to find an undergraduate program in a medical school,” Parra said. The program has part of the School of Medicine since the early 1980s, when it was organized by Robert Loftfield, MD, a founding faculty member.

The program graduates around 70 students each spring and another 10 or so during the winter convocation, she said. About 20 percent of the program’s graduates enroll in UNM’s MD program, she said. In addition to medicine, some graduates apply to the College of Pharmacy, veterinary schools and PhD programs.


Karlett Parra, PhD
[Students] gain a number of problem-solving skills and a high level of science knowledge that they can employ in almost any career
Karlett Parra, PhD

For students interested in health care, “biochemistry is such an important field,” Parra said. “They gain a number of problem-solving skills and a high level of science knowledge that they can employ in almost any career.”

Broadly speaking, biochemistry is “the science that studies life, health and disease using basic and applied knowledge from biology and chemistry combined,” Parra said. “It takes from biology what is relevant to life in organisms. It takes from chemistry what is relevant to life.”

Coursework during the first two years is mainly taken on Central Campus. Students take foundational courses in biochemistry before branching out into electives that apply biochemistry principles and relate to human health, she said. “The electives are very disease-oriented overall, where they study practical cases. They love that it’s in the medical school and seeing the environment here on North Campus.”

The department has an honors research program that enables students to gain experience working in the laboratory. Parra also instituted the Élite Mentoring Program, which offers workshops and seminars and helps students write CVs and develop have a career plan.

One benefit of having an accredited program is that it enables students to sit for a national certification exam offered by ASBMB that can serve as an important credential, Parra said. “This year our percentage of certifications was higher than the national average.”

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