Engaging Students

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. 

Brain Science and Social Hours: Moses Foiryolo (KEYS ‘21)

Young black man wearing a tie dye lab coat crosses his arms in front of him. In the background is an MRI machine.

Science intimidated first-generation college student Moses Foiryolo a few years ago. Participating in the BIO5 Institute’s KEYS Research Internship program in 2021 changed his trajectory, giving him the confidence and support system to pursue a scientific career path. Now he’s a University of Arizona undergraduate brain science researcher aspiring to become a physician-scientist.

Science Talks Episode 46: 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. 

KEYS Research Internship Students Win Top Accolades at AZBio Awards

Two young women stand in front of scientific posters and hold their winners' certificates

In late September, dozens of KEYS Research Internship alumni attended the 2023 AZBio Awards in Phoenix to present their scientific research, with three students winning top prizes.

This year, 32 alumni were accepted to present from the BIO5 Institute’s KEYS Research Internship, with 29 in the high school category and three in the undergraduate/graduate category.

2022 KEYS alumni Maritza Roberts-Padilla and Keona Kuo placed first and second, respectively, in the high school research category. 2021 KEYS alumna and current UArizona student Audrey Sweten placed second in the undergraduate/graduate research category.