Impacting Arizona

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: BIO5.org (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn).

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. 

Bridging worlds to connecting science and storytelling

Science Talks Podcast Episode 50 Featuring Caroline Mosley
Caroline Mosley discusses her journey from ponds to policy and how she found a career path that explores the intersection of storytelling and science communication to drive societal impact.

Science ignites curiosity about the natural world, leading people to explore and advocate for it. Amy Randall-Barber from the BIO5 institute was joined on Science Talks by Caroline Mosley, the senior manager of communications and content at the BIO5 Institute, University of Arizona. Caroline's journey into science began with a fascination for ecosystems, studying invasive species in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Later, she moved to Washington, DC, where she worked on protecting marine life and the environment. Now at the UArizona BIO5 Institute as the senior manager of communications and content, Caroline crafts compelling narratives that highlight the institute's groundbreaking research and innovations. She tirelessly bridges the gap between science and society, utilizing innovative communication channels to highlight the institute's pioneering work.  


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

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

Netflix. 

 

ARB: Dogs or Cats? 

I have cats, but I love dogs. 
 

ARB: Art gallery or history museum? 

Can I say science museum? 

 

ARB: That is great. I love it. Tell us a little bit about how you first developed an interest in science. 

I grew up in Wisconsin and was fortunate to live out in the country around ponds. I always loved going outside and thinking of all the little critters in the ponds. I loved to catch frogs, learn about all the different bugs, and look at the algae. I was always interested in how everything was connected and how there was so much life in such a small little area.  That to me was a starting point of seeing the natural world around me. My parents were very encouraging, so we went on a lot of nature walks and hikes, and I was immersed in nature which got me curious about how the natural world works. 

 

ARB: Absolutely, curiosity is usually what sparks an interest in science. Before you got into science communication, were you a researcher? Can you tell us about your experience in the field? 

Before I started writing about science and talking to scientists, I went to graduate school and I did environmental chemistry studying lake ecosystems in Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.  

My project was looking at nutrient cycling. Basically, studying mussel poop. Nutrients means you follow the poop in a system like Lake Michigan, which is very oligotrophic, meaning extremely low nutrients.  

In Lake Michigan, we have a lot of invasive species. I studied the Dreissena mussels, also called the zebra mussels or the quagga mussels that came from Russia through the St. Lawrence Sea Canal in ballast water around 50 to 60 years ago. Since mussels filter water, they draw the nutrients from the water down to the lakebed.  

My job was to study that and it was fun. I spent time both in the lab as well as the field. We would go out on these little boats on Lake Michigan and scoop up mussels from the lake floor to count them and see how many were present in a square meter. I would also take these mussels onto the boat and do- little experiments to see how much they could filter. 

I loved being on the water, being an active part of science. It was fun to see the mussels in their ecosystem, while at the same time also taking them out of that and studying the nutrients. We did chemical analysis to better understand how they filtered, how fast they filtered, and what they filter. I had a wonderful experience.  

It was funny, I originally wanted to study ponds and did not want to study big bodies of water. But my parents told me there is a new program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee you should check it out. They thought all water research was the same, but limnology on the Great Lakes is more like marine research. Since those lakes are so deep, all the equipment we use is the same used for marine science. Another funny thing is that I get motion sick. Even though I had a fun time, looking back I do not think I would do it again because I spent a lot of my time being sick on the boat. I learned that about myself, but it was still great!  

 

ARB: Oh goodness, well, we always learn new things all the time. So, what made you realize you liked science communication, more than being in the field? 

I always love to write and read and I was a voracious reader. Growing up, I also loved the natural world. When I was in college, I thought about going into journalism. But there was a time back in 2008 when the economy was not doing too well. It was more about job security, so I thought going into science it would be more secure.  

But as I was doing science and going through graduate school, I thought, I am so curious about everything, I could not focus on one thing! I loved talking to different researchers, faculty, and students, and I would rather talk to people about what they do and support them.  

I found the field of science communication, and I could see there is a place for me. After I graduated, I did not want to go to work where many people at my school would go work, mostly in the field. 

One of my lab mates got a fellowship in Washington, DC. I applied for this fellowship too, through Sea Grant and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Hence, I moved to DC, which opened this world with all these different people who are supporting science. And I started to see a path for me in these supporting roles.  

Now, I have been on this journey to find a way to write and explore science while supporting research. So that is where I decided science communication encompasses that in many ways.  

 

ARB: Moving on, what are you most excited about in your role here at BIO5? 

I am most excited to talk to all the faculty members and students. The best part in whatever role that I have had at the University of Arizona is connecting with the people who do the work and learning from them. It is the highlight of my job. This is the reason as to why I got into this, getting to know people, and building relationships.  

My goal is to show: How can I help you, to help me. How can I promote your research? How can I help you find services?  If it is a student, then how can I help you get a portfolio piece? Making those connections is important.  

Here, I am at that intersection that highlights the connection of multiple disciplines. Because that's where innovation happens. It is as cheesy as it sounds, but it is true. When you get people that come together, who think differently to solve problems, that's how cool things happen.  

The role is challenging, and I like to be challenged. 

 

ARB: Do you have any advice for the next generation? 

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I have come to terms with that.  

For context, my parents are retired physicians. They were always on a set path, and I always thought that's how life was. I have some friends who are lawyers and I have a friend who is a vet. Those are very set paths. You do step A to get to step B to get to step C. I always was looking for that path. I think realized is not easy to figure out what you like. But knowing what you do not like has been helpful for me.  

People ask me, what do you want to do? Well, I can tell you what I do not want to do, and that might be more helpful. You might really like science and or science communication, but you do not like writing. That is okay! There are all kinds of science and communication. You can edit written stories, be a photographer, build websites, or learn coding. There are diverse ways to support science.  

Plus, you do not have to know right away. It does get easier as you get older, and as you gain some experience and learn more about yourself. I would also say, do not be afraid. When I first graduated, I was in Wisconsin, and there weren’t any jobs for me. There was nothing that interested me, so I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone, and I did that by talking to people. So, another piece of advice would be to network, work on your LinkedIn, send messages to people with a specific ask. For example, ‘Hey, I see you work at NOAA, I am really interested in marine policy! What is your favorite part of your job?’  

These little things can help you gather bits of information. Don't feel like you must know what you want to do now. 

 

ARB: That is good advice. So, we have a fun question for our final question. If you could have a superpower, what would it be? And it does not have to be related to science. 

I would love to talk to animals.  

One of my favorite book series as I was growing up was Animorphs. I do not know if you have heard about it, but basically there was an alien invasion in this book series and these kids get these superpowers where they turn into different animals and that is how they save the world.  

So, I would say turning into animals or talking to animals. You look at animals and you cannot help but anthropomorphize them and wonder about what they are saying. 

 

ARB: Always wondering like what's going on in their little heads. Thank you so much for joining us today! 

Flinn Foundation funds Arizona research teams to drive discoveries into clinical settings

Picture of Pathogens
Flinn Foundation

Ten research teams from three Arizona institutions have been awarded $100,000 each from the Flinn Foundation Seed Grants to Promote Translational Research Program to help turn their findings into viable treatments and diagnostics.

Sustainable agriculture wins: recognizing integrated pest management specialists

Hands holding plants
UArizona CALES

In the vast world of cotton farming, a move towards sustainability is reshaping agricultural practices. Peter Ellsworth, faculty member of the Department of Entomology at the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences, and Director of the Arizona Pest Management Center, and Al Fournier, Integrated Pest Management Program Manager & Associate Extension Specialist in Entomology at the Cooperative Extension, along with their dedicated team, recently received a significant grant from Better Cotton and garnered recognition for their recent field day, showcasing innovative pest management practices that reduce insecticide use.

Women in Medicine and Science Welcome Governor Katie Hobbs to Their Annual Networking Event

Women in STEM With Gov. Hobbs
UAZ Med Phoenix

Governor Hobbs urged attendees to take the lead in making medicine more equitable. Celebrating the impact that women are making in medicine and science and supporting their growth as leaders was the focus of the 6th Annual Women in Medicine and Science (WIMS) Fall Networking Event.

Goodrum accepted into executive leadership fellowship

Dr. Felicia Goodrum
UArizona Health Sciences

Felicia Goodrum, PhD, interim associate department head and professor of immunobiology in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson has been accepted into the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine program hosted by Drexel University. She is also a professor in the BIO5 Institute, a member of the UArizona Cancer Center and a member of the AEGIS Consortium.

Women’s health, the microbiome and how bacteria can affect cancer

Science Talks Podcast Episode 48 Featuring Dr. Nicole Jimenez
Dr. Nicole Jimenez uses a microbiological lens to improve women’s health, studying bacterial vaginosis, gynecological cancers, and endometriosis.
BIO5 Institute

Unfortunately, many aspects of women’s health are underfunded and understudied. Better understanding women’s health conditions and microbiomes can help lead to better health outcomes and improve the quality of life. Amy Randall-Barber from the BIO5 Institute was joined on Science Talks by Dr. Nicole Jimenez, currently in the Melissa Herbst-Kralovetz lab, at the University of Arizona College of Medicine — Phoenix with a focus on women’s health research. She received her doctorate from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and was awarded two postdoctoral fellowships in 2023, one from the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona and the other from the BIO5 Institute. 


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

ARB: Before we get started, I’d like to ask a few icebreaker questions. What’s one of your nicknames? 

I don’t have a unique nickname, just Nikki.  

But I was thinking more about this. I play Dungeons and Dragons, and one of my character’s names is Sin Nombre, which means ‘without name’. And the funny thing is that my PI, Melissa, worked early in her career on a virus called the Sin Nombre virus. I recently found this out and thought it was so interesting and serendipitous! 

 

ARB: That’s too cool!  

What’s your hidden talent? 

I would say my hidden talent would be cooking, and more recently mixology. During the pandemic, I was working on my dissertation, but I also picked up mixology. More recently, I've been focusing on non-alcoholic cocktails. I have many different wood burning tips for smoking as well as different bitters. It's a really fun experience. With the no-alcohol craze coming around, you still want to socialize and create a beautiful experience to share with others. 
 

ARB: What’s your favorite drink to make? 

As far as an alcoholic drink is concerned, I would say a Negroni. That has Campari, gin and some other bitters in it. Then for non-alcoholic, I usually make a rose mule with rose syrup and ginger. 

 

ARB: The rose mule sounds delicious. If I come to Phoenix, you’ll have to make me one! 

Let’s get into your research. What is your current research and what got you interested in it? 

I was recruited to the University of Arizona to work on the microbiome. In my graduate career, I was working on the microbiome and its relationship to pregnancy and preterm birth. Here, I get to work on the microbiome, including rectal, vaginal, endometrial, and how it relates to gynecologic cancers as well as benign gynecologic conditions such as endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain.  

I got into this research because when I was picking my major at Arizona State University, I became a nutrition major since I wanted to see how environmental factors impact health. I learned about the gut microbiome, and it got me fascinated with how that impacted human health. And so, I switched my major to microbiology and stayed in this vein of research. 

 

ARB: I love to hear those kind of journey stories and what the pivotal moments are.  

Can you tell us about the overall research goals of your lab? 

The Herbst-Kralovetz lab focuses on women's health research. We incorporate metabolomics, microbiome, and immunoproteomics to better understand how certain conditions occur. We also think about better ways that we can modulate the microbiome to have better health outcomes.  

Right now, our focus is on gynecologic cancers. Mostly cervical cancer and endometrial cancer, as well as these benign gynecologic conditions. Some of them have similar characteristics to cancers such as adenomyosis — an overgrowth of cells in the muscles of the uterus — as well as endometriosis and chronic pelvic pain. 

 

ARB: Can you tell us about the most exciting part of your research and how it fits in to those overall goals? 

As a woman working in the women's health space every day, I discover something different. It took me researching in this area to learn about the different symptoms. The most exciting part is not just learning all that information, but also trying to create change in the management of those symptoms.  

We're creating early diagnostics. For example, it currently takes six to seven years for a patient to get diagnosed with endometriosis. And that's not acceptable. My social science background has helped me understand some of these discrepancies and why they're happening.  

 

ARB: How do they diagnose endometriosis? 

Usually it's through symptoms, MRIs or other diagnostics. To fully understand endometriosis, you have to have surgery or biopsy, which is really invasive. Our lab is focusing on other ways that we can diagnose sooner and less invasively.  

 

ARB: That would be great for all women. 

Can you talk more about the difference between your two fellowships? Are the projects for your postdoctoral fellowships the same or different? 

Both fellowships that I was awarded are on a particular bacterium called Atopobium vaginae, now called Fannyhessea vaginae. During my graduate school career, we identified that this one bacterium is three. 

However, not a lot of research has been done on those three. Are they different from one another? Are they similar? This particular bacterium has been associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV), increased inflammation, and more recently, endometrial and cervical cancer. So, you can see how that ties into our lab’s overall goals.  

My project is focusing on those three newly identified species in our clinical cohorts for cervical and endometrial cancer. I’m also looking at associations for different clinical factors, metabolic profiles or immunoproteomic profiles.  

Then we also have this sub-study of my postdoctoral work in the Herbst-Kralovetz lab focused on a 3D cell culture model. It looks similar to human tissue, and we can infect these cells with bacteria. Then, we look at how they change the immune and metabolomic environment. That gives us better understanding of host pathogen interactions, such as how those bacteria are potentially progressing cancer. 

 

ARB: Have you had any influential mentors in your personal life or educational career? 

Many of my mentors are so important. I think I had my first mentor when I was in high school. And then when I went to undergrad, I had a whole bunch of different mentors because I was part of this scholar program called Los Diablos where you're assigned a mentor for each year that you're in the undergrad program.  

Then during graduate school, I obtained even more mentors, because I was part of the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) program and prep programs funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  

Currently, through the BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship, I created a mentorship committee where I have mentors in Tucson and Phoenix who are guiding me not only on my project, but also on career advice. Right now, as a postdoc, I’m wondering, “Where am I going next? How do I get there? What advice do they have that made them successful?”  

Because giving back to the community is important to me, I’m currently mentoring students in our lab, which is predominantly 90% women.  

I want to get more women interested in science and women's health, which tends to be underfunded and under researched. So, I’m involved with the WISE program, the Women in Science and Engineering at the University of Arizona as well as the Los Diablos program. Now instead of just being a mentee, I'm a mentor. 

 

ARB: That’s full circle! Thank you for all your mentorship.  

What’s next for you? Do you tend to live in the moment or have a big plan? 

I think it takes a bit of both to be successful in academia and in science. For me, I like to plan out major goals and how I can get there. But you also have to be flexible. Your experiment might not go right, or a grant opportunity might just pop up and you have to quickly apply for it.  

My next step is to work towards a K-99 grant, so that it can transition me from my postdoc position to an academic professorship position. I'm working on a few other grants now, too, and our lab is working on publishing many, many manuscripts.  

 

ARB: We will definitely be on the lookout for those papers. Thank you again for joining us and sharing your story. 

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.