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).

Local Opinion: The Novel Threat of COVID-19

Royalty free photo by Viktor Forgacs
AZ Daily Star

Dr. Felicia Goodrum Sterling, Immunobiology professor with UArizona College of Medicine-Tucson and BIO5 faculty, discusses the COVID -19 epidemic including our ability and responsibility to protect our community and those most vulnerable. Relatively simple non-pharmaceutical interventions have been effective in limiting infectious disease. These include: washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick, disinfecting common areas and surfaces, and social distancing (e.g. avoiding handshakes).

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. 

Good mentorship, bad virus: A journey in molecular biology

Science Talks Podcast Episode 46 Featuring Dr. Rebekah Mokry
Dr. Rebekah Mokry talks about how the guidance of supportive mentors helped her find impactful research that focuses on the inner workings of a dangerous virus.
BIO5 Institute

Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) is a herpesvirus that infects a majority of the world’s population. It’s a significant cause of viral induced birth defects and can cause complications in transplant patients or immunocompromised individuals. Amy Randall-Barber from the BIO5 Institute interviewed Dr. Rebekah Mokry, a postdoctoral research associate and 2023 BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Immunobiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Tucson. She received her PhD in microbiology and immunobiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Mokry currently works on HCMV replication and its modulation of cellular metabolism in the lab of Dr. John Purdy, associate professor of immunobiology and member of the BIO5 Institute. Better understanding those cellular metabolism interactions helps guide the development of novel antiviral therapies.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


ARB: Let’s start off with rapid-fire questions. First, fruit or vegetables? 

I probably should say vegetable, but I'm going to go with fruit! 


ARB: And would you rather travel to the past or future? 

You know what, I want to be exactly where I am right now. 

ARB: I like it! Thank you. What was it that brought you to the BIO5 Institute? 

I was really excited about the research going on here. And in particular, I was excited about Dr. John Purdy’s research. He’s my mentor while I'm doing my postdoc here at the BIO5 Institute and is focused on lipidomics and metabolomics. That is research focused on identifying different nutrients within the body, and then identifying how many of them there might be. That was exactly the kind of training I wanted to acquire during my postdoc. It was a perfect match! The University of Arizona is absolutely wonderful and very collaborative. 


ARB: That is awesome. You found him or did he find you? 

It fell into my lap a little serendipitously. I happened to see Dr. Purdy give a talk at a scientific conference as I was ending my dissertation work. He was looking for postdocs, and as I was almost at the end of my graduate work, I thought I better reach out to find out more.  


ARB: That's a great example of the accessibility of our researchers. It’s not a rare thing here at the BIO5 Institute! 

That's something I noticed here at the University of Arizona. Everyone is very approachable. You can go and talk to somebody about their research and ask them if they can help you with your research. Everyone is so open, and I appreciate that. It’s something you really need as a scientist; you need to be able to collaborate and talk to make your science better.  


ARB: You initially received an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. What made you decide you'd rather do science? 

I love this question. I do get it a lot, because it's such an unusual pairing.  

I have a dual degree from my undergrad, that is criminal justice and molecular biology. As it happened, I started my undergrad a little bit later than most people and thought I wanted to do criminal justice. I was set on that and so glad I did pursue it because it gave me a great understanding of the social sciences. It has helped me because life sciences, like molecular biology, touch social science. Especially when we think about improving diversity and culture and plugging that leaky pipeline that's in research.  

My social science background has helped me understand some of these discrepancies and why they're happening.  


ARB: That makes sense to me. They’re both part of the process.  

What made Human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) become a focus of your research? 

I hadn't intended to become a virologist. In fact, I didn’t want to be a microbiologist or study viruses since I didn’t know anything about them as an undergraduate. I thought it would be a bad idea for my graduate work. But I happened to rotate in a lab where they were studying human cytomegalovirus, or HCMV. I loved the research, and my mentor was amazing, Dr. Scott Terhune at the Medical College of Wisconsin. I thought, this is the best fit for me.  

Initially, it was that the research is interesting, and I liked my mentor in this lab. And you know, that's what got me rolling. But as I began to get deeper into the literature and the research, I started to recognize what a terrible pathogen HCMV can be. What really drew me to continue to focus on HCMV was its connection to congenital birth disabilities. There are many foundations, like the National CMV Foundation and an organization here in Arizona, Stop CMV AZ. You go on these websites and see these wonderful children affected by CMV. While they’re still thriving, it has impacted both the children and their families. And that's what keeps me in this research project. I'm a basic science researcher, but I hope that my work will help clinical and translational research. 


ARB: Of course. What is the greatest impact you hope to make with your research? 

Along with hoping that my basic science can make an impact, I hope other people can build off my work for greater studies. I am also passionate about mentoring the next generation of students, and I love to go to high schools and be a science fair judge.  

I am excited about ushering in this next generation of scientists and providing a better culture overall for them. It’s twofold with impact in that I hope my research has an impact, but I also hope I have an impact with training scientists. 


ARB: Mentorship is so important. And here at the BIO5 Institute, I find we do much of it in different ways. 

Absolutely. In ways you wouldn't even think would be normal mentoring. You can have so many different mentors that are important, from the research to the more personal side. 


ARB: Speaking of mentors, do you have a mentor that impacted you? 

I've had a lot of mentors and all of them have impacted me in some way. I'm appreciative of them all.  

There was Dr. Tracy Lee at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, she was my undergraduate mentor. During my graduate work, Dr. Scott Terhune at the Medical College of Wisconsin and members of my committee, Dr. Vera Tarakanova, Dr. Neil Hogg, and Dr. Michele Battle. Now here at the University of Arizona, it is Dr. Felicia Goodrum and Dr. John Purdy.  

Of all the mentors that impacted my life the most, I have to say my parents. It may sound a bit cliche, but it's true. They are resilient and perseverant, and taught me everything I need to know while keeping my integrity. They are my biggest mentors. 


ARB: I’m sure your parents are very proud of you! 

You're a member of the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship this year. Can you talk a little bit about how you heard about the fellowship and what project you are working on as part of the fellowship? 

I heard about the fellowship through a previous awardee, Dr. Rob Jackson. He informed me of it and was kind enough to walk me through the process. I was so excited when I was awarded, and grateful to the BIO5 Institute for not just reading my application but believing in my research. A big thank you! 

I feel like my research was impacted in a big way from the fellowship. Being awarded gave me the confidence to write other grants and expand on some of my ideas. That somebody believing in me pumped me up to start writing more.  

Then there’s support for the research I’m working on. In Dr. John Purdy’s lab, we are interested in human cytomegalovirus and its interactions with host metabolism. When we're talking about the host, we're talking about humans, whose bodies have a certain metabolism associated with different tissues. We're seeking to understand how the virus hijacks some of these processes in order to replicate itself. My research focuses on how HCMV can acquire nutrients and then in terms of replication, what it is building with these nutrients.  

Previous literature has shown how HCMV modulates different nutrients within the body. I’ll use a food analogy. If you're baking a cake, and you have all the ingredients in your kitchen to bake that cake, you will make a fantastic cake. In a similar manner, this is exactly how we model HCMV infection in cell culture. We give the virus all of the nutrients and the metabolites that it needs to replicate itself to an optimal level.  

What I’m most interested in understanding is: what happens when we remove one of those ingredients? Or what if we limit one of those ingredients? If we're taking the cake analogy, let’s say we don’t have salt. The cake probably won’t taste as good. So, removing something or limiting a nutrient during HCMV replication, how will that impact virus replication?  

The BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship is helping me through this by allowing me to purchase supplies, network at conferences, and communicate my research to other scientists and the public.  

ARB: That’s great. I know that the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship also provides a community. Do you find there are resources and a sense of community this year? 

Yes. As I mentioned, the previous awardee told me about the fellowship, connecting with him was really important and now we’ve talked about grant opportunities. I’ve also communicated with my fellow postdocs in the fellowship and it’s great having a supportive community as we continue through our journey. 


ARB: Shout-out to Michael Johnson for his brainchild there!

You mentioned that you are from Wisconsin, so how do you like Arizona? 

I do like it! I love the University of Arizona and Arizona is stunning. It's beautiful, you can't get enough of those mountains surrounding you on all sides. But it is hot, I’ll say that. Truly, as a Midwest girl, I love the changing seasons. I love having all the seasons in one day, sometimes you get that in Wisconsin, but I certainly am enjoying my time while I'm here.  


ARB: And the lack of snow shovels, right? 

That’s a big thing! Not having to purchase a snowblower. 


ARB: How long are you hoping to be here? 

As a postdoc studying HCMV, it can last a few years. So, I'll probably be here at least another four. But that works perfectly for me because my daughter just entered high school this year. When she finishes high school, I will finish my postdoc, and then we will see where we both end up! 


ARB: Very cool! If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same career path? 

Oh, perfect question because I just picked up my Jurassic Park water bottle. I would be a paleontologist if I could do it all over again. Dinosaur bones are so cool.  


ARB: They're very intriguing! Did you know there are dinosaur bones at the University of Arizona Gem and Mineral Museum? I highly recommend it.  
So, when you were in elementary or middle school, what was your science fair project? 

Great question. I was homeschooled for most of my education and didn’t have a typical science fair project. I would say daily, day-to-day activities were my science project, like watching the leaves turn in real time, or watching winter turn to spring as the flowers bloom. And that was my exposure to science, right? Watching the world with curiosity. Baking with my mom and cooking with my parents, that was the beginning of my science experience. 


ARB: I think with anyone I talk to who is into science, it's that natural curiosity that starts it.  Thank you so much for joining us, it was a pleasure talking to you. And thank you for being a part of the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship! 

Thank you so much for having me, I'm just so grateful. 

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.