UArizona Researchers Team Up to Address COVID-19 with the Help of TRIF and BIO5 Support

researchers in white lab coats examining a specimen
Research projects will address the pandemic from various angles, including public health, virology and drug discovery.

As of April 28, more than 6,500 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the state of Arizona. To address this burden on a local and global scale, thirteen UArizona teams have been awarded more than half a million dollars to explore virology, prevention and treatment, epidemiology, and psychology associated with COVID-19.

For nearly 20 years, the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) has enabled UArizona researchers to conduct high-impact work by building up the scientific expertise and specialized equipment capacity at UArizona that allows swift response to scientific crises such the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last four year cycle, projects in infectious disease, immune system, and respiratory function have been seeded with over $5.8M.

As a rapid response to the pandemic, TRIF resources were quickly used to establish a seed grant mechanism. Interdisciplinary teams of two or more researchers representing their individual colleges and the BIO5 Institute were encouraged to pitch basic science, technology, clinical or population-based research projects that directly addressed COVID-19.

Fifty-five teams submitted seed grant applications. Their proposals were judged on potential impact, teamwork and use of core facilities.

Thirteen successful applicants were awarded up to $60K each. Over the next six months, teams will quickly pivot their existing research and draw upon their unique skills to address wide-ranging aspects of the pandemic.

Team of researchers working together
Genetics, Evolution and the Viral Lifecycle

Representing the College of Medicine – Tucson, Samuel Campos, Scott Boitano and Ken Knox will study an evolutionarily adapted aspect of the novel coronavirus. By understanding the modification of a key viral structure, Campos, Boitano and Knox aim to provide insight on infection and disease spread. Data and knowledge generated from their work may inform potential prevention and treatment strategies.

team of researchers working together

Identifying Potential COVID-19 Therapeutics through Image-Based Screening
Curtis Thorne, assistant professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and Koenraad Van Doorslaer, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, will use image-based screening to identify compounds that prevent viral replication in lung cells. They’ll also develop a technique to study replication of the novel coronavirus and plan to share it with other UArizona researchers studying COVID-19.

Team of researcher working together

The Use of Copper in Preventing Viral Persistence
Not just a coating for pennies, copper has been shown to have a negative effect on the novel coronavirus. Virologist Van Doorslaer will also team Michael Johnson, assistant professor of immunobiology, to investigate the ability of copper compounds to prevent the infection and replication of a related coronavirus. If successful, the team will test successful compounds against the novel COVID-19 virus.

Team of researchers working together

Improving Efficacy and Minimizing Toxicity of Anti-Malarial Drugs Against COVID-19
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two anti-malarial drugs, have shown promise as COVID-19 treatments through clinical studies in France, Italy and China. However, researchers are concerned about the safety and effectiveness of these compounds. Jianqin Lu and Xinxin Ding of the College of Pharmacy will use nanotechnology to improve the delivery of these drugs. Through this method, they aim to enhance drug efficacy and minimize toxicity.
Team of Researchers working together
Boosting the Immune System to Combat COVID-19
Directly targeting the virus is just one strategy researchers can use to treat COVID-19. Because of the severe gap in knowledge regarding the novel coronavirus, some researchers propose that developing a virus-targeted approach may not be quickly achievable. Instead, Lu will team with Yin Chen to explore whether enhancing COVID-19 patients’ immune systems can treat their infections.

Team of researchers working together

Novel Compounds to Enhance Anti-COVID-19 Activity and Safety
Because clinical studies of anti-malarial drugs have provided uncertain evidence regarding their utility, a third pharmacy team will test novel inhibitors in treating existing infections. Wei Wang, Steffan Nawrocki and Jennifer Carew will use the anti-malarial drugs as the foundation for designing similar, yet distinct compounds. By doing so, these experts in drug discovery and viral biology aim to identify new compounds which may prove to be safer and more efficacious.

Team of researchers working together

A Local Patient Database to Study Local COVID-19 Impact
Researchers representing medicine, pharmacy and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health will collect COVID-19 patient data from BUMC-T inpatient and BUMC Family Medicine Clinics. With this information, Karen Lutrick, Dean Billheimer and Brian Erstad will create a local database to allow for a greater understanding of disease impact on our local health system. Further, this database will provide a useful tool for future COVID-19 UArizona research efforts.

Team of researchers working together
Creating Foundations to Understand COVID-19 in Arizona
A public health team will also create a database to better understand the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 in our area. Kristen Pogreba-Brown, Kate Ellingson, Pamela Garcia-Filion, Elizabeth Jacobs and Kacey Ernst will collect data from patient interviews to determine acute risk factors and disease symptoms. They will also initiate a long-term study to generate a database that can be used by all Arizona investigators addressing COVID-19.

Team of researchers working together

Characterization of Critically Ill COVID-19 Arizonan Patients
Because our current understanding of the disease is limited to emerging, highly variable case reports, a third team will produce a database with information on hospitalized COVID-19 patients in our state. Vignesh Subbian, assistant professor in the College of Engineering will work with Jarrod Moiser of COM-T to compile patient characteristics and document the safety of their care. Through their efforts, they aim to better understand the clinical characteristics and courses of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in Arizona.

Team of Researchers working together

Using Genetics to Study the Origin and Spread of COVID-19 in Southern Arizona
To date, only one viral genome has been recorded for Arizona COVID-19 cases. Michael Worobey and David Baltrus plan to add nearly 40 more genomes to GenBank, a repository curated by the National Institutes of Health. In addition to contributing data, the group seeks to understand the relationship of the Arizona outbreak to the national epidemic. By comparing viral genomes across the country, the group plans to determine origin of COVID-19 in Southern Arizona and the number of transmission chains in the area.

Team of researchers working together

Understanding Vulnerability to COVID-19
The novel coronavirus is highly infectious in older adults and those with pre-existing critical health conditions. The reasons for this vulnerability are currently unknown. Immunobiology department head Janko Nikolich- Žugich and associate professor Deepta Bhattacharya will work with Craig Weinkauf, assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, to determine the links between these populations and COVID-19 susceptibility.

Team of researchers working together

COVID-19 Risk in Wastewater Treatment Facilities
In addition to traveling through droplets in the air generated by a sneeze or cough, the novel coronavirus passes through the feces of infected individuals. These live viruses can become airborne in wastewater treatment plants, posing a threat to facility workers. A team of five researchers – Luisa Ikner, Walter Betancourt, Jeff Prevatt, Kelly Reynolds and Ian Pepper – will study the risk of the airborne virus to facility worker health.


Team of researchers working together

COVID-19 and Brain Function
A hallmark of COVID-19 is the impairment of respiratory function. However, a fourteenth project will assess the cognitive impact of COVID-19. Funded by the Center for Innovation in Brain Science, Lee Ryan of the COS and Meredith Hay of the COM-T will utilize an existing database of over 50,000 individuals to understand brain-related impacts of the infection.


About the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute
The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona connects and mobilizes top researchers in agriculture, engineering, biomedicine, pharmacy, basic science, and computational science to find creative solutions to humanity’s most pressing health and environmental challenges. Since 2001, this interdisciplinary approach has been an international model of how to conduct collaborative research, and has resulted in disease prevention strategies, promising new therapies, innovative diagnostics and devices, and improved food crops.
For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn).

Taking advantage of the body’s electrical system to treat disease

Science Talks Podcast Episode 53 Featuring Dr. Christopher Banek
Dr. Christopher Banek discusses his journey from writer to scientist, and how manipulating the body’s nervous system is the next frontier for treating cardiovascular and kidney diseases.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects nearly half of American adults and is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Researchers are working to better understand the role of the peripheral nervous system, the part of your nervous system that lies outside your brain and spinal cord, in the development of cardiovascular as well as renal diseases. Amy Randall-Barber from the BIO5 Institute was joined on Science Talks by Dr. Christopher Banek, BIO5 member and assistant professor in the Department of Physiology at University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson. Dr. Banek works in the nexus of cardio-renal-neural physiology, studying the causes of hypertension and polycystic kidney disease. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

ARB: Let’s start with a couple of ice-breaker questions. What’s your favorite snack?  

Chips and salsa. 

ARB: What is your go-to karaoke song? 

I want to lean towards Radiohead songs, but I’ll just do a classic: “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra. 


ARB: Do you have a bucket list? And if so, can you tell us about one or two items on it?  

I feel like I’m young and naive enough to still think I’ll live forever. I haven’t given it too much consideration. Maybe jump out of plane at some point in my life – skydiving.  


ARB: What brought you to University of Arizona and BIO5? 

I started at the University of Arizona in 2019 after my postdoc in Minnesota. I was drawn to the Department of Physiology for its well-rounded approach, focusing on multiple systems rather than one. It allowed each of us to have our own niche without overlapping, which complemented the ongoing research. It was a great opportunity for me. 


ARB: How did you decide on the research area you are focusing on? What motivated you to pursue it? 

Honestly, I stumbled into it. During my graduate studies, I focused on cardiovascular disease. However, within pregnancy research, I grew fond of the methodologies and models. Over time, I transitioned to broader areas like heart disease, cardiovascular, and renal diseases due to their significant impact. To this day, I still love that work.  


ARB: Can you share a recent revealing or exciting moment in your lab or research? 

So, we have been exploring the use of surgery to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure, which shows promise. We are now aiming to apply this technique to address other cardiovascular and kidney diseases.  

Recently, we’ve found success in treating polycystic kidney disease with this neurosurgical treatment. And what that means is simply cutting the nervous system connection between the kidney and the brain, slowing down the progression of the disease. This novel application offers hope for patients with limited treatment options.  

Currently, there is only one FDA-approved drug on the market for this condition from 2018. Unfortunately, despite the effectiveness of the drug in slowing down disease progression, patients' lives are significantly impacted by constant thirst and frequent urination, making bathroom visits the center of their existence. Moreover, long-term use is associated with liver toxicity, further complicating their condition. This disruption to daily life can also affect sleep quality. We aim to provide these patients and their physicians with alternative treatment options.  

Exploring combinational therapies targeting different mechanisms could potentially yield better outcomes, which is the focus of our latest research endeavors, and it is incredibly exciting. 


ARB: So, I have one question on this. If you are disrupting the pathway, are there any other negative effects to it? 

At present, there are not any well-documented negative side effects of the renal denervation procedure. Although complications like renal artery stenosis were initially a concern, they haven't been shown to occur more frequently than they would naturally.   

The only potential drawback is the loss of vasoconstriction ability, which could affect blood flow regulation in cases of hemorrhage or blood loss. However, this is not a significant issue unless treating patients engaged in activities like professional knife fighting. 


ARB: What are some of your research goals, and why is it important to study the peripheral nervous system? Could you elaborate on the significance of understanding this aspect and discuss some of your laboratory's research objectives? 

We are really fascinated by the peripheral nervous system as opposed to the central nervous system, i.e., the brain.  

The brain is like this black box that is difficult to manipulate, but the peripheral nervous system offers more control with fewer side effects. We can achieve this by selectively cutting specific nerve populations to observe how it impacts disease progression. Another exciting area is electroceuticals or neuromodulation, where we can modulate nerve activity without disrupting it entirely. This involves changing the nerve's signature to signal to the body that certain pathological signals are unnecessary or no longer present, potentially halting the disease cycle.  

I believe the future lies in this field, moving towards neuromodulation rather than simply nerve cutting. Understanding the signals we are manipulating will be crucial for advancing the field towards more effective treatments. 


ARB: So, you could also target other areas, not just focus on the kidneys or cardiovascular system? 

That's correct. It doesn’t have to be kidney or heart centric. 

Neuromodulation therapies are emerging nationwide, beyond renal nerves. For instance, vagal nerve stimulation, which modulates ascending and descending signals to mitigate or even reverse disease progression. You’re taking advantage of the body’s electrical system like hacking a computer. 


ARB: We need more of this! So, you're at the intersection of cardiovascular and renal diseases. Can you talk more about the connection between the two, or is it primarily through the peripheral nervous system?    

Yes, and to add to that point, many perceive high blood pressure as primarily a heart disease. While the heart plays a role, the kidney is central to blood volume regulation, impacting overall blood pressure. So targeting the kidney in models of hypertension is crucial for long-term blood pressure regulation. 


ARB: Your lab website mentions the use of telemetry-based approaches and acute electrophysiological preparations to assess changes in nerve activity and their effects on cardiovascular and renal responses. Could you explain these methods in simpler terms?  

In simpler terms, the telemetry-based approach involves implanting a device in animals to monitor their blood pressure and nerve activity over extended periods, like several months. This helps us track how diseases progress over time.  

On the other hand, the acute electrophysiological approach is more short-term and involves a surgical procedure under anesthesia. We use it to carefully manipulate the nervous system to observe its effects on nerve activity, blood pressure, and cardiovascular responses. 


ARB: So, this is a fun question! I noticed your lab's website reflects a vibrant culture. Could you share how your team dynamics and culture influence the research environment and overall research experience? Additionally, I am curious to learn more about Bash. 

Sure, let’s start with Bash. He is a four-year-old Australian Shepherd and Catahoula Leopard mix, a breed I had not heard of until I got him during COVID. He has been my running partner and the lab mascot ever since! 

As for the team, I have been fortunate to have incredibly smart and awesome individuals in my lab, from the lab manager to postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates.  

What is unique about our department at the University of Arizona is the large undergraduate program. I enjoy bringing undergraduates into the lab. They are eager for knowledge and experience. I believe in fostering a team-based environment where everyone works together towards common goals because success in the lab is shared. Also, I'm passionate about involving undergraduates in research to encourage them to pursue academic and PhD training and equip those interested in medicine with analytical skills that will make them better physicians. Graduating my first PhD student last Tuesday was both exciting and bittersweet. 


ARB: What lesson did your mentor impart to you? As a mentor yourself, especially to undergraduates, what principles or insights do you hope to instill in your students, considering they are at various stages of their academic journey? 

I have been fortunate to have several mentors throughout my career journey.   

One particularly influential figure was my postdoctoral advisor, John Osborn. He has been incredibly supportive of my career and development. One of the many lessons that I’ve taken from him is the team-based approach.  

It is crucial to constantly refocus on the hypothesis. How am I addressing the question? If I'm not, maybe I'm veering off into this little rabbit hole that I shouldn't be going down? Keeping it focused on the science and the underlying question is key to any research program and ensure that every experiment and analysis serve to address the central question at hand. We constantly talk about this in our lab meetings and daily discussions. This principle helps students maintain a perspective on broader scientific goals, even during the more mundane tasks like pipetting or sample collection.  


ARB: Another question we like to ask is what is your "why"? What motivates you and keeps you going in this line of work? 

If I had to do it alone, I'd be miserable. So, the "why" is science and the questions. But the "why" also includes the people. I love my lab and the people I work with.  

Do it for the people, do it for the science, do it for fun. It's fun to get up and answer some unknown questions. That's why we're academics in the first place. 


ARB: So, what’s next for you? 

What's next is that we're going to dive deeper into this polycystic kidney disease, or PKD. We just got a Research Project (R01) grant funded in December and it focuses directly on how the nervous system—peripheral nervous system, specifically the renal nerves—are contributing to the progression of this awful disease. 

We can try to mitigate either the early stages of it developing to change the disease's trajectory, or more clinically relevant, can we treat patients already presenting in the clinic with PKD. Can we offer them some sort of reversal? That would be the best-case scenario. But even if we can delay the progression or rapid progression of these cysts in the kidney, that will buy them time. 


ARB: How long does it typically take from having the idea to conduct human trials for a treatment like this? 

That is an area that we want to further develop within our research program. In my lab and here at the university, I want to see more of the basic science connection into more of a translational approach in the clinic. So, we are working on that right now.  

We have the chance to leverage this new technique that is freshly FDA approved and on the market for the treatment of hypertension. It is a catheter-based system. In essence, it is a tube that can access your kidneys' blood vessels, and from within that blood vessel, they can perform this nerve ablation. You do not feel it and the procedure is quick. It is like a light switch; you can turn it from on to off. You do not have to worry about taking a pill every morning.   

We want to translate that to other patients who may be hypertensive to move us towards clinical trials. We want to see if this is indeed efficacious for people that have limited options. 


ARB: Can you tell us what brought you onto your path to become a PhD? 

Early in my education, even as just a high schooler, I was mostly interested in writing. I love nonfiction, even to this day. I don't read much fiction; I don't have the capacity for it. So, when I went to college, I had the idea that I was going to go into journalism or become a writer. But I decided I did not like those classes. I found a lot of joy in my science classes instead and I changed my path into more science-based fields. I ended up with a triple major—it sounds like a lot, but there was a lot of overlap—biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, and chemistry. 

The reason I got into research was because of my organic chemistry professor, Viktor Zhdankin. Despite being one of the harder classes, I found it fascinating. When I talked to him during office hours, he showed me some of the reactions they were doing in the lab, and I was hooked. I joined his lab, published two papers in organic chemistry, and then took a hard left turn in physiology. It all started when I saw surgery being done on a rat and was immediately fascinated. I followed that interest to the University of Oregon for my PhD, focusing on hypertension in pregnancy. During my PhD, I realized my passion for non-traditional treatments like exercise. This solidified my decision to pursue academia, as I love answering questions, conducting research, and working with students. The energy of young minds keeps me motivated, and I have not looked back since. 

It's funny how life works out—I originally thought I would become a writer but ended up in science. However, it has come full circle because writing is a huge part of my daily routine now. Despite mostly writing dry, nonfiction science articles, it has been an inadvertent success. I owe a lot to someone who gave me an opportunity during my undergraduate years, and that is why I find it so important to pay it forward and bring others into the field. 


ARB: That's phenomenal. I wish there were more people in this world like that. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate learning about your work and your lab. And for you taking the time with us today. 

BIO5 Institute Announces Newest BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellows

2024 BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellows
Eight outstanding postdoctoral researchers were awarded the 2024 BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship, which aims to propel interdisciplinary researchers to the next stage of their careers.
Caroline Mosley, BIO5 Institute

Now in its sixth year, this competitive fellowship through the University of Arizona BIO5 Institute provides exceptional postdoctoral researchers with monetary awards and professional development opportunities. 

Since 2019, over 40 BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellows have been awarded $5,000 each to advance their scientific projects and gain the skills they need to become independent researchers in their respective fields. The award can be used to learn new skills in workshops, travel to conferences, or visit peer labs to further collaborations. Each fellow works with a BIO5 member as a primary mentor and forms a mentoring committee that assists them with grant applications, career advice, and job talk preparations.  

The 2024 BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellows are: Marjan AghajaniAngela GreenmanAtsushi IshiiDavid JordanZoe LyskiGemma PurserPhilip Yost, and Ran Zhang.

Seeing a need to invest in the success of postdoctoral researchers, BIO5 member Michael D.L. Johnson, associate professor in the Department of Immunobiology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, established the fellowship with support of BIO5 leadership to support cross-disciplinary projects aligned with the BIO5 mission. 

The Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) that helped launch BIO5 more than 20 years ago continues to be a catalyst in enabling effective, cross-disciplinary bioscience research, innovation, and impact at the university and in supporting the next generation of scientists through training opportunities like the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship. 

Learn about the 2024 Fellows and their interdisciplinary research 

Marjan Aghajani, PhD 

Proposal Title: The role of the ER stress-inducible ribosome-binding protein 1 (RRBP1) in cardiomyocyte protection during ischemic stress 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Shirin Doroudgar, Department of Internal Medicine, UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix  

Heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries, or ischemic heart disease, can affect the signaling pathways and survival of the cardiac muscle cells responsible for the contraction of the heart. It's critical to understand the molecular mechanisms of these cells and pathways to prevent cell death and the resulting stress placed on the cardiovascular system. 

With a background in medical physiology, immunology, and cell biology, Marjan Aghajani is pursuing a research career focused on studying abnormal changes in body functions caused by cardiovascular disease.  

“I want to understand how cardiac muscle cells, or myocytes, respond to stressful challenges. My vision is that such responses could become the basis of new therapies for heart diseases that stress cardiac myocytes,” said Aghajani.  

Aghajani will use the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship to study the molecular mechanisms involved in ischemic heart disease. Using human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs), she will focus on the role of ribosome-binding protein 1 (RRBP1) in cardiomyocyte survival under ischemic stress. The funds and mentorship will help her gain expertise in hiPSC culturing and differentiation and present her work at a heart research conference. 

Angela (Angie) Greenman, PhD 

Proposal Title: Quantifying the super-relaxed state of myosin 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Samantha Harris, Department of Physiology, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson 

Understanding the molecular mechanisms of muscle contraction can lead to a better outcome of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a prevalent cause of heart failure in adults.  

Using her expertise in molecular biology, physiology, and muscle function, Angie Greenman plans to use her BIO5 Fellowship to further her career goals of becoming an independent scientist studying and teaching how skeletal and cardiac muscle function in health, disease, and under the stress of exercise. 

"I want to study the effects that cardiac and skeletal muscle proteins have on regulating contraction and relaxation in normal physiology and testing these same proteins under the stress of pathology and under the demands of exercise,” said Greenman.  

Greenman will use the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship to expand her laboratory skills, particularly in fluorescent microscopy techniques related to muscle function, to study the role of cardiac myosin binding protein-C (cMyBP-C) in muscle contraction and relaxation. Funding will allow her to visit with an expert in the field at the University of Copenhagen, learning novel techniques for characterizing different states of myosin during relaxation that opens doors to new avenues of research in her field.   

Atsushi Ishii, MD, PhD 

Proposal Title: Gaining tools to probe the dynamics of brain stem cell regeneration during aging 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Lalitha Madhavan, Department of Neurology, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson 

Understanding the effects of aging and sex hormones on neurogenesis is important for a deeper understanding of various cranial nerves and psychiatric diseases. Some central nerve diseases develop in a variety of age-dependent manners and go into spontaneous remission, while others, such as autism spectrum disorder, develop from birth and progress chronically, and others, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease, develop in old age. Some symptoms develop and progress over time, and symptoms change with age. 

With his long-standing interests in neurological disorders and a background working as a pediatric neurologist, Atsushi Ishii wants to research regenerative approaches for addressing age-related neurological disorders. 

“Working on neurodevelopmental disorders previously in a clinical setting, I became intrigued with the role of age-dependent changes in these contexts, which although important, were less appreciated and studied,” said Ishii. 

Ishii will use the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate the molecular pathways associated with the aging of neural stem progenitor cells (NSPCs), particularly focusing on the NRF2 transcription factor and its interaction with sex hormones. He plans to visit an expert in the field at Tohuku University in Japan to learn about NRF2 biology and cutting-edge methods, as well as attend a conference around stem cell research to network and present his work.  

David Jordan, PhD 

Proposal Title: Preliminary biomechanical evaluation of the concurrency of carpal tunnel syndrome and trapeziometacarpal osteoarthritis 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Zong-Ming Li, Department of Orthopedic Surgery, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson 

Millions of people are afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis, musculoskeletal disorders of the hand and wrist. 

David Jordan's mechanical engineering expertise, along with his background in physiology, bioengineering, medical imaging, and computer modeling, gives him a unique multidisciplinary perspective on the biomechanical study of the hand and wrist. 

“My current research focus involves the imaging, testing and modeling of the trapeziometacarpal joint, which is the most affected hand joint by osteoarthritis. I aim to develop novel therapeutic treatment mechanisms for this disorder,” said Jordan. 

Using the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship funds, Jordan will study the concurrency of carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. He wants to identify and recruit patients with concurrent cases of these disorders and construct apparatuses for testing hand function. Jordan also plans to attend conferences focusing on orthopedic research and biomechanics to jumpstart his independent research career. 

Zoe Lyski, PhD 

Proposal Title: Uncovering mechanisms behind suboptimal immunity in immunocompromised individuals 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Deepta Bhattacharya, Department of Immunology, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson 

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shown, people do not develop equally protective immune responses to infection and vaccination, and those with immunocompromising conditions and cancer are especially at risk. 

With expertise in immunology and virology, Zoe Lyski will use the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship to further study how immune responses influence viral evolution.  

“There is an unmet need to uncover key drivers of suboptimal immunity and develop means of improving vaccine immune responses in immunocompromised patients. My project aims to help fill this knowledge gap,” said Lyski. 

Her project supported by the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship will focus on understanding suboptimal immunity in cancer patients, particularly regarding antibody responses to vaccination and subsequent viral evolution. Funds will help develop targeted mRNA vaccine approaches to improve outcomes in immunocompromised patients and allow her to travel and present her research at an immunology conference.  

Gemma Purser, PhD 

Proposal Title: Investigating the role of urban forest soils in mitigating atmospheric volatile organic compound driven air pollution in cities 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Laura Meredith, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, College of Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences 

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contribute to air pollution, which has implications for human health particularly in urban areas. The presence of VOCs in the atmosphere has a variety of sources, but of rising concern are those originating from personal care items, cleaning products, and industrial solvents.

Specializing in atmospheric and analytical chemistry, Gemma Purser wants to further her understanding of microbial analysis and urban ecosystems to better study VOCs.  

“This fellowship offers a unique opportunity to explore critical questions at the intersection of urban ecology, atmospheric chemistry, and microbiology. I am excited about the potential impact of this research on understanding the role of urban forest soils in buffering the newly emerging sources of atmospheric volatile organic compounds in cities,” said Purser.  

Using funds from the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Purser will start a collaborative independent research project with Urban Biogeochemistry program at Boston University and Aerodyne Research, Inc. (ARI) to study the interplay between urban green spaces and volatile organic compounds in improving air quality. She will use the funds to conduct soil experiments using advanced mass spectrometer instrumentation at ARI and work with Boston University to further develop her microbial analysis techniques. 

Philip Yost, PhD 

Proposal Title: Biomimetic 5-module chimeric antigen receptor therapy 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Michael Kuhns, Department of Immunology, UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson

When our immune system works correctly, it deploys T cells to detect and eliminate viruses, bacteria, and other organisms that cause disease. However, sometimes these cells go rogue, attacking healthy cells and causing autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes. 

With an extensive background in cellular and developmental biology, Philip Yost wants to have a meaningful impact on human health research using a novel approach – biomimetic engineering – to genetically engineer cells that can lead to new immunotherapy treatments. 

“Since joining the Kuhns lab in fall 2022, I have successfully established a workflow for a second-generation chimeric antigen receptor as a platform to expand from just the treatment of Type 1 diabetes and extend as an application for treatments against other diseases,” said Yost. 

Yost will use the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship to design and develop a second-generation biomimetic chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) for T-cells in immunotherapy, capable of redirecting T-cells effectively. He will use the funds to enhance his immunology training through advanced courses and attending conferences.  

Ran Zhang, PhD 

Proposal Title: A fluorescence-based high throughput screening assay to target the Nsp14 ExoN of SARS-CoV-2 

BIO5 Member & Principal Investigator: Hongmin Li, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy 

Emerging and evolving coronaviruses present challenges to researchers as they must continually advance their understanding of antiviral therapies.  

With her expertise in veterinary medicine, microbiology, and virology, Ran Zhang aims to provide valuable insights into potential antiviral drug development for coronaviruses. 

“Given the current global emphasis on antiviral research, particularly considering recent pandemics, there's a heightened demand for professionals with specialized knowledge in antiviral drug development. I want to contribute to groundbreaking discoveries that can have a profound effect on public health,” said Zhang. 

With the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship, Zhang will research the role of non-structural protein 14 (nsp14) in coronaviruses' replication, particularly SARS-CoV-2, and develop a high-throughput screening assay to identify inhibitors of nsp14 activity. The funds and mentorship allow Zhang to design, implement, and test experiments that will help her understand viral replication mechanisms and add to the development of antiviral therapies. 

BIO5 Institute Expands its Innovative Biosciences Research Model to Phoenix

Two women holding food and drink talking. A sign with the BIO5 Institute KEYS Research Internship is in the background.
With its focus on strengthening translational research, fostering collaborative projects and training the next generation of scientists, the BIO5 Institute aims to leverage its resources to advance interdisciplinary bioscience research and increase industry connections in Phoenix.
Caroline Mosley, BIO5 Institute

The BIO5 Institute at the University of Arizona is set to embark on a groundbreaking journey by officially expanding its footprint to Phoenix. This move marks a significant step in fostering collaborative biosciences research across Arizona and beyond. 

“The vision for the BIO5 Institute in Phoenix is to become a catalyzing force for interdisciplinary biosciences research, magnifying connections between Phoenix-based and Tucson-based BIO5 members, utilizing BIO5 resources, and integrating with the larger Arizona biosciences community,” said Jennifer Barton, BIO5 Institute director. 

While the BIO5 Institute already has over a dozen faculty members in Phoenix, the formal expansion to Phoenix is not just a geographical milestone, but a testament to the institute's dedication to advancing biosciences research through collaboration, innovation, and education. 

An open house mixer on November 13 in Phoenix officially launched the expansion by welcoming over 60 members of the UArizona community along with industry professionals. To forge strong relationships with both faculty and the biosciences industry, the BIO5 Institute hired a strategic engagement coordinator, Marissa Starks-Bahn, earlier this year who will be housed at the UArizona Biomedical Sciences Partnership Building. 

“Our goal is to grow our BIO5 membership in Phoenix while providing the same level of services a Tucson member may receive. In addition, we want to play a larger role in connecting our existing Phoenix and Tucson BIO5 members with UArizona resources as well as industry expertise,” said Barton. “We will also be able to better support UArizona Phoenix-based initiatives such as the Center for Advanced Molecular and Immunological Therapies (CAMI) and educational program expansion.” 

Increasing opportunities for translational research 

Strengthening and expanding translational research is a key initiative for the BIO5 Insitute, aligning with the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF) funding that helped launch the institute over 20 years ago. This special investment in higher education by Arizona voters is intended to expand major efforts in biomedicine and biotechnology that will provide a return on investment to the people of Arizona. 

A BIO5 member since 2017, Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz and her lab aim to positively impact women’s health by conducting biomedical research with a high translational value in a clinical setting.  

Woman with blonde hair and a dark and white dress stands with a hand on her hip while other women work in the lab behind her
Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz has been a BIO5 member for over six years and directs a program focused on women's health at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix.

One current project in the Herbst-Kralovetz lab is endometrial cancer, the 4th most common cancer in women, that can only be diagnosed through painful and invasive procedures.  

Rising obesity rates and an aging female population, two main risk factors, are causing increasing rates of endometrial cancer, particularly in Arizona. But obtaining funding can be difficult for research that isn’t focused on pregnancy and childbirth. 

“Visibility is key for increasing awareness about gaps in women’s health research, particularly aging and menopause, two topics that are understudied,” said Herbst-Kralovetz, a professor in the Departments of Basic Medical Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the Women's Health Microbiome Initiative at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. "A few years ago, I accompanied Jennifer Barton to the governor’s office to ask for additional funding and support for the BIO5 Institute. That was a great opportunity to discuss the needs in women’s health research here in Arizona and why it needs to be prioritized in terms of funding.” 

She hopes the expansion of the BIO5 Institute’s footprint will lead to more opportunities for her to discuss her research with government officials as well as raising awareness of women’s health conditions within the Phoenix community. 

Jumpstarting critical research and training the next generation 

Another of the BIO5 Institute's key initiatives is providing its faculty members with opportunities for seed grant funding. These smaller grants are crucial support for galvanizing scientific projects that can lead to larger grants and more long-term stability for interdisciplinary research. This strategic approach has proven to be a catalyst for innovation and propelled the institute to the forefront of biosciences research. 

Taben Hale, a professor in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences at the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, joined the BIO5 Institute in 2023. She studies the causes and consequences of high blood pressure to identify novel treatment strategies to allow people to live longer and healthier lives. 

Woman with a dark hair in a bun looks into a microscope as an older woman looks on
Taben Hale has been with the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix for over 15 years, but as a more recent member of the BIO5 Institute, she's interested to look into funding focused on jumpstarting collaborative projects.

“I’m excited to bridge disciplines and tap more broadly into academic and industry connections as a BIO5 member,” said Hale. “Opportunities to get seed grants are critical for stimulating those collaborative projects and generating the preliminary data that is necessary to then obtain federal funding.” 

Furthermore, the BIO5 Institute is committed to shaping the future workforce of scientists through programs like the KEYS Research Internship, the BIO5 Institute’s flagship summer internship program for high school students interested in developing STEM skills under the mentorship of UArizona scientists. Plans to integrate KEYS in Phoenix are already being discussed. 

Another way to prepare the future workforce is providing financial support and mentorship for up-and-coming researchers. Now in its fifth year, the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship is an internal funding mechanism for postdoctoral researchers engaged in research projects aligned with the institute’s mission. The fellowship has already supported several outstanding postdoctoral fellows in Phoenix, 2023 fellow Nicole Jimenez and 2022 fellow Erik Blackwood, with hopes to support more.   

All these initiatives not only nurture emerging talent but also contribute to the institute's overarching goal of advancing biosciences research in Tucson, Phoenix and beyond. 

Women to Watch in Medicine and Science – Shirin Doroudgar, PhD

Shirin Doroudgar, PhD
UAZ Med Phoenix

Shirin Doroudgar, PhD, works as an assistant professor in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix’s Department of Internal Medicine and is an active member of the Translational Cardiovascular Research Center, where she leads a research group in cardiac molecular biology, focused on understanding changes in protein homeostasis and cellular stress responses that contribute to heart disease.

AHA News: The 'Hispanic Paradox': Does A Decades-Old Finding Still Hold Up?

Hispanic Man
U.S. News

Many Hispanic people in the United States face socioeconomic disadvantages and lower access to affordable health care. Despite these and other challenges to their health, they generally tend to live longer than other racial or ethnic communities – a health phenomenon that's been studied for decades.

Long COVID Is Already Having a Massive Impact On the Health Care System

Operation Room in a Hospital

Long COVID is what researchers call “a mass disabling event affecting numerous organs systems and individuals of any age.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says as many as 1 in 13 adults in the U.S have symptoms of long COVID that last three months or longer after contracting the virus.

Sarver Heart Center Member Dr. Michael Grandner receives mid-career scientific award

Dr. Michael Grandner
Sarver Heart Center

Sarver Heart Center member Michael Grandner, PhD, MTR, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, received the Richard Bootzin Mid-Career Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award from the Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.