Skip Navigation
ARCS logo
20 people standing in front of fuilding holding a large check from ARCS.

San Diego ARCS Chapter presenting a check to President Adela de la Torre.

ARCS® Foundation is a nationally recognized organization run entirely by women philanthropists. Their mission is boosting American leadership and advancement in science and technology by providing funding to help the country’s most brilliant students create knowledge and innovative technologies.

In 2020 the San Diego ARCS Chapter celebrates its 35th anniversary. It has given 1,400 awards totaling over $10 million, supporting SDSU students with more than $3.1 million in scholarships since 1989. Annual awards are unrestricted and merit-based, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.

For the 2019-2020 academic year, the San Diego ARCS Chapter has generously awarded a total of $405,000 to 57 scholars, 14 who are SDSU joint-doctoral students receiving $105,000 of the awards.​

 

Achievement Rewards for College Scientists 2019–20
John Allen, Erik Blackwood, Mariel Cardenas, Corey Clatterbuck, Molly Clemens, Liwen Deng, Joshua Kelly, Lucas Luna, Clifford Pickett, Adriana Trujillo, Janet Walker, Melissa Ward, Joi Weeks, Nicholas Williams.

John Matthew Allen

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Stem Cell Biology and Regeneration
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. Molecular Biology
Harvey Mudd College, Claremont

John Allen

About John

John’s project works towards understanding how cells make fate decisions. How DNA, or the “blueprints” of the cell, are physically packaged by histone proteins in the nucleus can regulate gene levels and directly influence cell fate. His work focuses on a complex that modifies histone proteins that wind DNA around them. The effect of this modification is to cause a localized compaction of the DNA and histones and cause genes to become silenced. His lab studies this complex during regeneration and examines how stem cells are regulated as re-form tissues.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation award has been a source of continued support throughout my graduate career. I use part of this award to relieve myself of teaching obligations that significantly hinder my ability to focus solely on conducting the research that is essential to advance my thesis work. I also appreciate the chance to interact with scientific donors and to discuss my work (and science in general) with the public.

Award Donor

Reuben H. Fleet Foundation Fund

Current Research

How cells make fate decisions through development and how they maintain these states is a complicated multi-faceted question that has important implications in understanding many human diseases. Especially important is understanding how an organism can deploy a common set of DNA instructions to form multiple differentiated cell types. My work seeks to understand how cells use epigenetic instructions to guide cell fate decisions through the dynamic process of regeneration. This work will help us understand how an important but understudied epigenetic complex is affecting stem cell regulation.

Publication & Posters

Ochoa, S. D.; Dores, M. R.; Allen, J. M.; Tran, T.; Osman, M.; Castellanos, N. P. V.; Trejo, J.; Zayas, R. M. A modular laboratory course using planarians to study genes involved in tissue regeneration. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 2019, 47 (5), 547–559.

Strand, N. S.; Allen, J. M.; Zayas, R. M. Post-translational regulation of planarian regeneration. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology 2019, 87, 58–68.

Strand, N. S.; Allen, J. M.; Ghulam, M.; Taylor, M. R.; Munday, R. K.; Carrillo, M.; Movsesyan, A.; Zayas, R. M. Dissecting the function of cullin-RING ubiquitin ligase complex genes in planarian regeneration. Developmental Biology 2018, 433 (2), 210–217.

Allen, J. M.; Ross, K. G.; Zayas, R. M. Regeneration in invertebrates: Model systems. eLS 2016, 1–9.

Awards & Honors

ARCS Foundation, Inc. – San Diego Scholar; University Graduate Fellowship; DePietro Scholarship Award.

Benefits to Science and Society

Winegrapes are one of the world’s most expensive and culturally important crops, currently facing climate change impacts like drought, heat waves, and increases in pest pressure. I hope that my research will benefit the grape growing communities by providing alternative varieties and sustainable solutions to some of these problems. Specifically, we are working on drought resistance grapevine varieties, which will hopefully be used in the industry one day. The current varieties we are testing in our experimental vineyard could help local growers in Temecula and Fallbrook choose alternatives that are more drought and heat tolerant.

Erik Alexander Blackwood

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Specialization in Molecular Cardiology
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. in PreProfessional Studies
University of Notre Dame

Erik Blackwood

About Erik

Ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of human deaths worldwide and is mainly due to acute myocardial infarction (AMI), where coronary artery occlusion causes rapid, irreparable damage to the heart, increasing susceptibility to progressive cardiac degeneration and heart failure. Erik has identified several lead candidate small molecules that can enhance adaptive signaling and responses in the heart and confer protection against cardiac damage during an AMI. Furthermore, because of the nature of the adaptive response targeted, he is investigating its beneficial effects in disease models targeting other organ systems.

Personal Interests

Football, basketball, powerlifting, medical and scientific history, history and philosophy of science, and cooking.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation award has been pivotal in my career. I have been able to enjoy my PhD more fully without the burden of financial stress living in California, far from the support of my family. I have met amazing scientists and have been exposed to the cutting-edge research they are also involved in. I feel more connected to the San Diego community through ARCS. I am so honored to have my efforts validated by an award like ARCS, which puts positive pressure on me to continue striving for excellence.

Award Donors

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter
Karen & Bob Bowden

Current Research

For my doctoral training, my research has focused broadly on molecular cardiology focusing on the cardiac structure and function in the ischemic, hypertrophic, and failing heart, in vivo. I have led a team at the SDSU Heart Institute that is focused on developing novel proteotoxic-based therapeutics for ischemic heart disease and hypertensive stress. This work has led to recent publications whereby we defined a novel link between ischemic-stress sensing in the endoplasmic reticulum and the genetic induction of antioxidants to prevent reperfusion injury. We followed up these findings by identifying small molecule activators of this pathway and demonstrated their efficacy in small animal models of reperfusion injury not only in the heart, but also demonstrated protection in the brain, liver, and kidney.

Additionally, through transcriptome analysis we identified a novel link between the endoplasmic reticulum stress response and essential elements of mTOR-dependent myocyte growth. This led to the unique identification of non-canonical pathology-dependent gene induction by the ER stress response. Finally, our most recent work that is the culmination of my doctoral studies is delineating a novel link between the ER stress response and the paracrine and endocrine functions in atrial cardiac myocytes with an emphasis on mitigating hemodynamic stress and promoting cardiac function. The manuscript reporting these finds is in the final stages of preparation for submission.

Publication & Posters

Blackwood, E.A.; Azizi, K.M.; Thuerauf, D.J.; Paxman, R.; Plate, L.; Wiseman, L.; Kelly J.; Glembotski, C.C. Pharmacologic ATF6 activation confers global protection in widespread disease models by reprogramming cellular proteostasis. Nat Commun, 2019; 10:187.

Blackwood, E.A.; Hofmann, C.; Santo Domingo, M.; Bilal, A.S.; Sarakki, A.; Stauffer, W.; Arrieta, A.; Thuerauf, D.J.; Kolkhorst, F.; Muller, O.J.; Jakobi, T.; Dieterich, C.; Katus, H.A.; Doroudgar, S.; Glembotski, C.C. ATF6 regulates cardiac hypertrophy by transcriptional induction of the mTORC1 activator, Rheb. Circ Res. 2019; 124(1):79-93.

Jin, J-K.; Blackwood, E.A.; Azizi, K.; Thuerauf, D.J.; Fahem, A.G.; Hofmann, C.; Doroudgar, S.; Glembotski, C.C. ATF6 decreases myocardial ischemia/reperfusion damage and links ER stress and oxidative stress signaling pathways in the heart. Circ. Res. 2017; 120(5):862-875.

Awards & Honors

Best Poster Award, Gordon Research Conference (GRC) on Cardiac Regulatory Mechanisms 2016, 2018; National Institutes of Health Predoctoral F31 Fellowship 2018; American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship 2017; Best Poster Award, International Society for Heart Research 2017.

Benefits to Science and Society

I have led a team at the SDSU Heart Institute that is focused on developing novel proteotoxic-based therapeutics for ischemic heart disease and hypertensive stress. We are aiming to expedite the process of high-throughput drug screening to testing of lead candidates in small and large animal models of cardiovascular, endocrine, and neurological diseases in the hopes of providing better therapeutics in the clinic for patients.

Mariel Manaloto Cardenas

Ph.D. Chemistry (candidate)
Organic Chemistry, Chemical Methodology
Joint SDSU / UC San Diego

B.S. in Chemistry
UC San Diego

Mariel Cardeneas

About Mariel

Mariel is developing various catalytic atroposelective syntheses towards pharmaceutically relevant compounds. Reactions that she isa currently working on are nucleophilic substitutions and additions of specific functionalities that medicinal chemistry would be interested in (e.g. various amines, methoxy-groups). Examples of pharmaceutically relevant compounds that Mariel has worked on include: 3-aryl pyrrolopyrimidines (well-studied compounds that have direct implications in modern chemotherapeutics) and 3-aryl quinolines (which are found in many FDA-approved drugs and bioactive compounds). Her chemistry is applicable to improving workflow behind drug discovery, as the state of industry lacks cost-efficient and timely chemical methodologies to make large amounts of these biologically active compounds.

Personal Interests

I love Harry Potter and I revisit the series only with a bowl of ice cream, going to rock concerts (particularly for music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s), and walking around San Diego.

My ARCS Award

I strongly think that the ARCS Foundation award has largely benefited me in alleviating financial stressors that are related to graduate student life. It means so much to me as well to know that I am amongst a group of students that can develop science towards the community. It resets my focus that science is to largely “change the world” and advance ourselves and improve the quality of humanity. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve been super humbled and grateful to attend ARCS meetings. I’ve gotten to talk with so many people involved, and it’s actually allowed me to become even more determined to shape my research with that goal in mind. With the award, I can really hone in and shape this research without worrying about the burdens in graduate student life (like money-problems, financial setbacks, etc.).

Award Donor

Robin Luby

Current Research

There is renewed interest in leveraging atropisomerism to synthesize more potent and selective N-heterocyclic pharmaceuticals. One unaddressed challenge is the narrow window of synthetic methodologies to directly access these important atropisomeric scaffolds on desired “gram-scale” quantities. Mariel and her coworkers in the Gustafson group at SDSU have reported an atroposelective nucleophilic aromatic substitution towards a diverse range of these aforementioned compounds in high enantioselectivities and optimal yields.

Mariel selected thiophenols to add into these pharmaceutically relevant N-heterocycles, since the resulting product is synthetically and medicinally useful in drug discovery. Examples of N-heterocycles we have directly functionalized with this chemistry include 3-aryl pyrrolopyrimidines (PPYs, a well-studied kinase inhibiting scaffold) and 3-aryl quinolines (which are ubiquitous in many drug and ‘drug’-like compounds). Currently, Mariel and her colleagues are expanding this chemistry towards 3-aryl pyridines, pyrimidines, and pyrazines (among the most common N-heterocyclic motifs of drug discovery).

Publications & Posters

Cardenas, M. M.; Saputra, M. A.; Sanchez, A. N.; Robinson, C. J.; Valle, E.; Gustafson, J. L. Development of atroposelective syntheses of pharmaceutically relevant N-heterocycles. 46th National Organic Chemistry Symposium. 26 June 2019, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.

Cardenas, M. M.; Saputra, M. A.; Sanchez, A. N.; Robinson, C. J. Valle, E.; Gustafson, J. L. Developing atroposelective syntheses to access diverse pharmaceutically relevant scaffolds. American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition, Spring 2019. 1 April 2019, 3 April 2019, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL.

Cardenas, M. M.; Toenjes, S. T.; Nalbandian, C. J; Gustafson, J. L. Enantioselective synthesis of pyrrolopyrimidine scaffolds through cation-directed nucleophilic aromatic substitution. Org. Lett. 2018, 20, 2037-2041. [doi: 10.1021/acs.orglett.8b00579] [PMID: 29561161, PMC5909700]

Awards & Honors

University Graduate Fellowship Award, SDSU in May 2019; ARCS – San Diego Scholar, SDSU in Aug 2019; NIH Funded Student, SDSU in Aug 2017; Cal Vet Student, Cal Vet Services in Aug 2015.

Benefits to Science and Society

Atropiomerism (also referred to as axial chirality) is ubiquitous in all of drug discovery, as 30% of FDA approved drugs since 2011 possess at least one interconverting axis of atropisomerism. While this number is striking, the current ‘industry standard’ is to avoid creating stable atropisomers when possible and treating rapidly interconverting atropisomers as achiral. The current lack of synthetic methodologies to obtain ‘large-scale,’ industry-standard quantities of atropisomerically-pure drug scaffolds, and the reliance on chiral HPLC separation, is not useful for medicinal chemists involved in the drug discovery process.

Corey Allyn Clatterbuck

Ph.D. Ecology (candidate)
Marine Ecology and Conservation
Joint SDSU / UC Davis

M.S. in Biology
San José State University

B.S. in Biology and Anthropology
Transylvania University

Mariel Cardeneas

About Corey

Seabirds are a highly-threatened taxon that are also ecological sentinels of ocean conditions, including chemical pollution. Corey’s research examines contaminants found in seabird tissues to better describe the chemical environments sea life are exposed to. She uses targeted approaches to assess contaminants that are highly regulated and well-established as harmful to human health, in addition to non-targeted approaches that detect new, currently unmonitored, and unregulated contaminants of interest. The primary objective is to determine concentrations and spatial extent of contaminants and potential impacted species before the levels of these contaminants become problematic in the environment.

Personal Interests

Hiking, cycling, trivia nights at brewpubs, winning my fantasy football league, and spending time with dogs.

My ARCS Award

Recognition of my work and my potential as a scientist is empowering. As an early career scientist, the ARCS Foundation Award has helped me see myself not only as a student, but as a peer to other scientists that have made significant contributions to science & society. As such, being an ARCS Scholar is invaluable to my identity and future as an ecologist, and has helped me gain self-confidence in completing my doctoral research.

Award Donor

Virginia Lynch Grady Endowment

Current Research

Monitoring physical and biological conditions in the open ocean is an inherently difficult task, particularly when monitoring toxic and harmful compounds. A large proportion of biomonitoring research focuses on a single species, a single site, and/or a small range (i.e. 1-3) of contaminant classes. While informative, the scope of such studies can limit their applicability, which is concerning as data suggests the abundance of organic and heavy metal contaminants in the ocean is increasing. Contaminants can have sub-lethal effects that affect population viability, and new, unknown contaminants enter the environment with little knowledge of their possible effects and limited ability to monitor these emerging contaminants.

My research explores how seabirds may be used as biomonitors for a rapidly-changing ocean environment. First, I show that seabird tissues can be used to indicate the magnitude and extent of a wide range of contaminants at the regional scale. I also examine relationships between seabird distribution and mercury concentrations to investigate a link between foraging habitat and observed reproductive failure in seabird colonies. Lastly, I will use tissues of wide-ranging seabird species, albatrosses (Phoebastria spp.), to characterize the type and abundance of legacy and new toxicants present in North Pacific waters.

Publications & Posters

Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lewison, R.L. California least tern (Sterna antillarum browni) breeding survey, 2018; CDFW; San Diego, CA, 2019.

Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lewison, R.L.; Orben, R.; Suryan, R.; Torres, L.; Ackerman, J.; Shaffer, S. Contaminants as ecological tracers: Does mercury load reflect foraging habits of a generalist seabird? 46th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Seabird Group, Lihue, HI, USA, Feb 27-March 3, 2019.

Shaffer, S.A.; Cockerham, S.; Warzybok, P.; Bradley, R; Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lucia, M.; Jelincic, J.; Cassell, A.; Kelsey, E.C.; Adams, J. Population-level plasticity in foraging behavior of western gulls (Larus occidentalis). Move. Ecol. 2018, 27, 1-13.

Clatterbuck, C.A.; Lewison, R.L.; Dodder, N.; Zeeman, C.; Schiff, K. Seabirds as regional biomonitors of legacy toxicants on an urbanized coastline. Sci. Total Environ. 2018, 619-620C, 460-469.

Awards & Honors

SDSU University Grant Program; CSU Program for Education & Research in Biotechnology Travel Grant; CSU-Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology Student Research Award.

Benefits to Science and Society

Many contaminants are incidentally introduced to coasts and oceans, where they persist and impact marine life for decades. However, we have little knowledge of how suites of chemicals impact marine life. This research is a first step to identifying these chemical suites, in addition to describing their spatial extent and magnitude. These investigations support innovation and advances in biomonitoring, to shift from reactionary to proactive monitoring and towards a stronger integration with animal ecotoxicology and ecology.

Molly Elizabeth Clemens

Ph.D. Ecology (candidate)
Viticulture
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

B.S. Environmental Science
Fordham University, New York

Molly Clemens

About Molly

Molly is studying the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on grapevine functions, including lifecycle shifts and leaf morphology. She has worked with researchers in France and Italy to investigate the genetics of grapevine graft compatibility. Molly will be working this year on a genetic transformation to increase drought tolerance in grapevine as a step towards more sustainable viticulture. Her work at San Diego State involves an experimental vineyard investigating alternative varieties for California from hotter and drier regions of the world.

Personal Interests

In my free time I enjoy climbing, surfing, yoga, and traveling.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation award has been pivotal in my career. I have been able to enjoy my PhD more fully without the burden of financial stress living in California, far from the support of my family. I have met amazing scientists and have been exposed to the cutting-edge research they are also involved in. I feel more connected to the San Diego community through ARCS. I am so honored to have my efforts validated by an award like ARCS, which puts positive pressure on me to continue striving for excellence.

Award Donor

Heller Foundation of San Diego

Current Research

My dissertation in the Global Change Research Group of San Diego State focuses on the effects on climate change on vineyards in California, France, and Italy. My first chapter produced a nonlinear phenological model of temperature impacts on phenology using a long-term common garden vineyard at UC Davis. My second chapter used microCT x-ray tomography scans to visualize changes in grapevine internal leaf anatomy using samples from Grape FACE in Geisenheim, Germany. In San Diego, we created a diversity block of alternative varieties to test in Southern California for future winemaking. I worked in France learning methods for testing RNA expression, specifically quantifying mRNA and miRNA by qPCR.

This year, I will be working on genetic transformations using the CRISPR-CAS9 system to develop grapevine with higher drought resistance by knocking out genes for stomatal development. My thesis is an interdisciplinary investigation of adaptations in vineyards, with the goal of sustainable agroecological solutions to the threats of climate change.

Publication & Posters

Clemens, M.; Walker, A.; Wolkovich E. A comprehensive ecological study of grapevine sensitivity to temperature; How terroir will shift under climate change. GiESCO, Thessaloniki, Greece June 21-28, 2019.

Valim, H.; Clemens, M.; Frank. H. 2014. Joint decision-making on two visual perception systems. Laboratory of Informatics and Data Mining, Department of Computer and Information Science at Fordham University. Computational Intelligence, Cognitive Algorithms, Mind, and Brain (CCMB), 2014 IEEE Symposium.

Awards & Honors

Chateaubriand Fellowship in France; University Graduate Fellowship, San Diego State University and the Fondazione Edmund Mach; Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship, Area of Excellence Center for Climate and Sustainability Studies; Fulbright Graduate Research Fellowship.

Benefits to Science and Society

Winegrapes are one of the world’s most expensive and culturally important crops, currently facing climate change impacts like drought, heat waves, and increases in pest pressure. I hope that my research will benefit the grape growing communities by providing alternative varieties and sustainable solutions to some of these problems. Specifically, we are working on drought resistance grapevine varieties, which will hopefully be used in the industry one day. The current varieties we are testing in our experimental vineyard could help local growers in Temecula and Fallbrook choose alternatives that are more drought and heat tolerant.

Liwen Deng

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Microbiology
Joint SDSU / UC San Diego

B.S. in Physiology and Neuroscience
UC San Diego

Liwen Deng

About Liwen

Liwen is interested in how the typically commensal bacterium Group B Streptococcus (GBS) is able to cause severe disease in vulnerable populations such as newborns. GBS normally colonizes the vaginal tract of healthy women asymptomatically but can be transmitted to the newborn with devastating consequences. Currently, GBS is a leading cause of neonatal pneumonia, sepsis, and meningitis in the United States. Since beginning her work in Dr. Doran’s lab, Liwen has identified several bacterial factors that contribute to how asymptomatic colonization can transition and cause invasive disease in newborns.

My ARCS Award

I am very grateful for the support of the ARCS Foundation award. This funding has enabled me to attend many conferences to present my research. At these meetings, I have received valuable feedback about my data and I have also been able to network and meet other scientists in the field of bacterial pathogenesis.

Award Donor

Hervey Family Non–Endowment Fund

Current Research

Streptococcus agalactiae (Group B Streptococcus [GBS]) is an opportunistic pathogen that normally colonizes healthy adults asymptomatically and is a frequent inhabitant of the vaginal tract in women. However, GBS possesses a variety of virulence factors and can cause severe disease when transmitted to newborns. Despite widespread intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis administration to colonized mothers, GBS remains a leading cause of neonatal meningitis in the US.

For my PhD work, I am investigating how this bacterium is able to persist in the vaginal tract, transition from a commensal colonizer to an invasive pathogen, disrupt host barriers, and ultimately penetrate into the brain to cause infection and inflammation. I have characterized an inflammatory GBS surface adhesin which promoted bacterial attachment to brain endothelium and discovered the host endothelial receptor for this GBS factor. I have also characterized a GBS two-component system transcriptional regulator that influences meningitis as well as GBS vaginal carriage by impacting host immune signaling.

Lastly, I have developed an in vivo mammalian model for vaginal colonization by another common opportunistic pathogen, Staphylococcus aureus, so that we can begin to investigate interactions between GBS and other resident microbes within this host niche.

Publications & Posters

Deng, L.; Schilcher, K.; Burcham, L.R.; Kwiecinski, J.; Johnson, P.M.; Head, S.R.; Heinrichs, D.E.; Horswill, A.R.; Doran, K.S. Identification of key determinants of Staphylococcus aureus vaginal colonization. mBIO (2019).

Spencer, B.L.; Deng, L.; Patras, K.A.; Burcham, Z.M.; Sanches, G.F.; Nagao, P.E.; Doran, K.S. Cas9 contributes to Group B Streptococcal colonization and disease. Front Microbiol (2019).

Deng, L.; Spencer, B.L.; Holmes, J.A.; Mu, R.; Rego, S.; Weston, T.A.; Hu, Y.; Sanches, G.F.; Yoon, S.; Park, N.; Nagao, P.E.; Jenkinson, H.F.; Thornton, J.A.; Seo, K.S.; Nobbs, A.H.; Doran, K.S. The Group B Streptococcal surface antigen I/II protein, BspC, interacts with host vimentin to promote adherence to brain endothelium and inflammation during the pathogenesis of meningitis. PLoS Pathog (2019).

Deng, L.; Mu, R.; Weston, T.A.; Spencer, B.L.; Liles, R.; Doran, K.S. Characterization of a two-component system transcriptional regulator LtdR that impacts Group B Streptococcal colonization and disease. Infect Immun 2018, 86(7).

Awards & Honors

Rocky Mountain ASM 2nd place best oral presentation; SDSU Heart Institute/Rees Stealy Research Foundation graduate fellowship; ASM Student travel grant; SCASM 1st place outstanding graduate research.

Benefits to Science and Society

Despite widespread intrapartum antibiotic prophylaxis treatment of mothers who are carriers for GBS, this pathogen remains the leading cause of bacterial meningitis in newborns. Additionally, there is growing concern of emerging patterns of antibiotic resistance in GBS and other microorganisms present during treatment. Liwen hopes that a better understanding of how GBS interacts with the host immune system to cause disease may lead to the development of more targeted therapeutics to combat GBS infections.

Joshua Terence Kelly

Ph.D. Geological Sciences (candidate)
Coastal Geomorphology, Remote Sensing
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

M.S. in Environmental Science
University of Massachusetts, Boston

M.S. in Oceanography
University of Rhode Island

B.S. in Geosciences
University of Rhode Island

Joshua Kelly

About Josh

Josh’s research involves understanding how climate influences shoreline change along the southeast coast of Queensland, Australia. He has used satellite imagery to construct a decades long shoreline change curve that was correlated to global climate cycles such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. He ultimately found that shoreline dynamics (erosion/growth) are controlled by variability in the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. He is currently using emerging satellite technologies to rapidly assess tropical cyclone impacts on Australia’s coast.

Personal Interests

Hiking, playing soccer, traveling, exploring local breweries, and cheering on my hometown Boston sports teams.

My ARCS Award

Being selected as an ARCS Scholar has proven to be a significant morale booster over the past year and has inspired me to produce scholarly work that all of the ARCS community can be proud of. The funding from ARCS has directly assisted me in my research endeavors, as I was able to purchase state-of-the-art software programs that are not available to University faculty or students. In addition, I used the funding to acquire much-needed equipment and field apparel for my field work in Australia. The funding has also provided a much-needed safety net of sorts for day to day life in San Diego, as most are well aware that living in one of the most expensive cities in the US on a graduate student stipend is not the easiest. I have also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other ARCS recipients, particularly the SDSU cohort, at the various University-hosted events on campus and ARCS events off. I really appreciate the professional development events that ARCS has hosted, such as the financial advising seminar at Rachel Collins’ home, as they provide extremely valuable information that most of us do not receive in our day-to-day lives.

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter

Current Research

The ultimate goal of my dissertation is to find, if any, primary climate drivers of shoreline change in southeast Queensland, Australia. I have mapped over 9,000 km of historical shoreline positions using Landsat imagery and constructed a temporally and spatially robust shoreline change curve that is statistically correlated to the five major climate phenomena operating in the Australasian region. I observed a bimodal climate control of shoreline change dependent upon the phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), where by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) controls shoreline dynamics during negative IPO phases and the Subtropical Ridge becomes dominant during positive IPO. I theorize this is due to IPO’s control over the position of the South Pacific Convergence Zone and modulation of the impacts of ENSO on Australia’s eastern coast.

I am also using emerging satellite technologies such as CubeSat’s to rapidly assess tropical cyclone-induced shoreline changes along Queensland’s coast. Much of this work involves quantitatively assessing the total positional uncertainty of shoreline positions derived from CubeSat imagery as this a novel application of the new satellite data product.

Publication & Posters

Kelly, J. T.; Gontz, A. Rapid assessment of shoreline changes induced by tropical cyclone Oma using CubeSat imagery in Southeast Queensland, Australia. J. Coast. Res. 2019. (in press)

Kelly, J. T.; McSweeney, S.; Shulmeister, J.; Gontz, A. Bimodal climate control of shoreline change influenced by interdecadal Pacific oscillation variability along the Cooloola Sand Mass, Queensland, Australia. Mar. Geol. 2019. (in press)

Kelly, J. T.; Gontz, A. Using GPS-surveyed intertidal zones to determine the validity of shorelines automatically mapped by Landsat water indices. Int. J. Appl. Earth Obs. 2018, 65C, 92-104.

Kelly, J. T.; Carey, S.; Croff-Bell, K. L.; Roman, C.; Rosi, M.; Marani, M.; Pistolesi, M. Exploration of the 1891 Foerstner submarine vent site (Pantelleria, Italy): Insights into the formation of basaltic balloons. Bull. Volcanol. 2014, 76, 844-862.

Awards & Honors

USNC/INQUA Congress Fellowship; AAPG Raymond D. Woods Memorial Grant; GSA Graduate Student Research Grant (2); Robert D. Ballard Endowed Fellowship.

Benefits to Science and Society

One of the biggest concerns of climate change is understanding how it will impact shorelines on a global scale. Where 40% of the global population live within 100 kilometers of the coast, it’s becoming ever more important to understand the correlation between climate variability and shoreline dynamics. The results of Josh’s research further our understanding of the coupling between climate and shoreline change and will support the development of long-term coastal management strategies.

Lucas Aaron Luna

Ph.D. Biochemistry (candidate)
Enzymology; Molecular Mechanisms of Diseases
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. Biochemistry
UC Santa Barbara

Lucas Luna

About Lucas

The Sohl Lab in the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department at SDSU aims to help alleviate disease by investigating mechanistic questions at the intersection of biochemistry, cell biology, and medicine. We explore how altered enzyme activity impacts human health using kinetic, structural and cellular tools. By understanding the molecular mechanisms of enzyme dysfunction, we can illuminate structure-function relationships, probe subsequent global cellular consequences of mutations, identify drug targets, and ultimately develop platforms for targeted therapy.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS award has had a monumental influence on my passion and the quality of my work. It has increased my motivation to make lasting contributions to the scientific community, and I feel like it will accelerate my degree completion. The network that ARCS provides will also be invaluable to my career development. The ARCS award has inspired me to give back to the student community at SDSU. I have decided to become more involved in chemistry tutoring and have started tutoring students in general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. As someone who has gone through the same courses more recently, I can provide a more relatable experience and an explanation that the students can understand. It is a very rewarding experience to give back to the community and I hope for it to continue through the rest of my PhD career. An additional benefit to the tutoring experience is that I can influence someone to continue a degree in chemistry or biochemistry and inspire them to seek out a research position.

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter

Current Research

Recently, I have been involved in studying how changes in the cellular environment can reroute metabolism by altering the catalytic activities of metabolic enzymes such as Isocitrate Dehydrogenas (IDH) 1. IDH1 catalyzes the reversible conversion of isocitrate to alpha ketoglutarate. The forward reaction is important to protect against oxidative damage and the reverse reaction is important for anaplerosis and glutamine metabolism. Normal IDH1 is amplified in various types of cancer; however, the majority of IDH1 studies use tumor-relevant mutations. Thus, there is a critical, unmet need to show how changing the cellular environment regulates IDH1 activity. Typically, the forward and reverse reactions are balanced to meet the metabolic needs of the cell. However, when the cellular environment is perturbed by a change in pH, the catalytic activity of proteins can change and the equilibrium of the forward reaction and reverse reaction can be shifted. In one piece of the project we will determine if the activity of IDH1 is sensitive to pH, and in the other we will examine the cellular consequences of IDH1 upon encountering lowered intracellular pH.

The final project that I am involved with at this time is establishing mechanisms of dysfunction for DNA Polymerase Epsilon. Mutations in this enzyme are frequently observed in colorectal and uterine cancers. Studies with human DNA Polymerase Epsilon are extremely limited. In this project, we will kinetically characterize the mechanism of altered fidelity of human DNA Polymerase Epsilon and tumorigenic mutants.

Publication & Posters

Bernatchez, J.A.; Coste, M.; Beck, S.; Wells, G.A.; Luna, L.A.; Clark, A,E.; Zhu, Z.; Hecht, D.; Rich, J.N.; Sohl, C.D.; Purse, B.W.; Siqueira-Neto, J.L. Activity of selected nucleoside analogue protides against Zika virus in human neural stem cells. Viruses 2019.

Avellaneda Matteo, D.; Wells, G.A.; Luna, L.A.; Grunseth, A.J.; Zagnitko, O.; Scott, D.A.; Hoang, A.; Luthra, A.; Swairjo, M.; Schiffer J.M.; Sohl, C.D. Inhibitor potency varies widely among tumor-relevant human isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 mutants. Biochemical Journal 2018.

Bernatchez, J.A.; Zunhua, Y.; Coste, M.; Li, J.; Beck, S.; Liu, Y.; Clark, A. E.; Zhu, Z.; Luna, L. A.; Sohl, C.D.; Purse, B. W.; Li, R.; Siqueira-Neto, J. L. Development and validation of a phenotypic high-content imaging assay for assessing the antiviral activity of small molecule inhibitors targeting the Zika virus. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 2018.

Awards & Honors

University Graduate Fellowship 2019; Prebys Biomedical Research Endowed Scholarship 2018, 2019; Harry E. Hamber Memorial Scholarship 2018, 2019; ARCS – San Diego Scholar 2018, renewed 2019.

Benefits to Science and Society

With the Isocitrate Dehydrogenase project we hope to establish how metabolic enzyme activity is affected by changes in the cellular environment, and we hypothesize that the reverse reaction is favored at lower pH levels. We will also show how cellular metabolism is regulated by intracellular pH. In the polymerase project, we will identify unique mechanisms of novel polymerase mutations and help inform a treatment strategy in colorectal and uterine cancer patients.

Clifford Dennis Pickett Jr.

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Developmental Genetics
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. in Biology
Rhode Island College

Clifford Pickett

About Clifford

The development of an embryo from a single cell has always fascinated C.J. Particularly, he is interested in the study of the genetic program of embryogenesis. His research aims to understand the advent of a particular cell type in a marine chordate, a ciliated neuron that is homologous to our inner ear hair cells. He is discovering what genes are responsible for producing this cell type. Due to our evolutionary connections to this organism that he studies, the properties of how this cell type develops are transferable to fields such as human hearing-loss research.

Personal Interests

I enjoy reading, cycling, softball, gardening, cooking, and spending time with my wife.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation is truly a wonderful organization. Each and every ARCS person I have interacted with since receiving the award has been friendly, sincere, smart, motivated, and dedicated to the idea that rewarding hard working and promising students of the sciences is a worthwhile and fruitful idea. It’s a really special foundation, and I feel so honored to have been recognized by them.

Award Donor

Drs. Mara and Larry Ybarrondo
ARCS Foundation San Diego Chapter

Current Research

Our lab studies the evolution of ciliated epidermal sensory neuron (CESN) development during embryogenesis using the marine invertebrate chordate Ciona robusta. Pou4, a proneural transcription factor (TF) involved in C. robusta peripheral nervous system development is necessary and sufficient for CESN differentiation. My primary research focus aims to understand how CESNs differentiate, thus, what are the factors involved in activating Pou4? I am approaching this question in a number of ways. By having reviewed relevant literature, TF binding motif analyses, and an RNA-seq database I generated, I made informed predictions regarding genes, i.e. potential Pou4 activators and repressors, expressed in the correct pre-Pou4 location. This approach has revealed TFs that when ectopically expressed seem to increase the number of CESNs indicating activation of Pou4, and genes that decrease the number of CESNs indicating repression of Pou4. Once individual proteins are identified, I perform an overexpression screen and a CRISPR screen to establish their role as either Pou4 activators or repressors.

Publication & Posters

Pickett, C. J.; Zeller, R. Efficient genome editing using CRISPR-Cas-mediated homology directed repair in the ascidian Ciona robusta. genesis, 2018 56(11-12):e23260.

Ratcliffe, L.; Asiedu, E.; Pickett, C. J.; Warburton, M.; Izzi, S.; Meedel, T. H. The Ciona myogenic regulatory factor functions as a typical MRF but possesses a novel N-terminus that is essential for activity. Developmental Biology, 2018, 15;448(2):210-25.

Pickett, C. J.; Zeller, R. Pou4 Genes during Neurogenesis (in prep).

Awards & Honors

Elliott Family Fund Scholarship; W. Christina Carlson Award for Excellence in Biology; Mary M. Keefe Departmental Award for Excellence in Biology; Rhode Island College Alumni Scholarship.

Benefits to Science and Society

I am passionate about understanding how sensory neurons emerge from a neurogenic field of epidermis. I think that the work I am performing is an excellent route to gain critical insights into this phenomenon.

Adriana Sara Trujillo

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Molecular Mechanisms of Heart Disease
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

M.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology
SDSU

B.S. in Cellular and Developmental Biology
Minor in Chemistry
CSU Fullerton

Adriana Trujillo

About Adriana

Adriana’s research uses the fruit fly model system to explore the disease mechanisms by which mutations can cause dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease associated with heart enlargement. This disease can be caused by mutations in myosin, the protein responsible for producing muscle contraction. She is currently implementing multidisciplinary approaches (molecular, cellular, and whole tissue) to better understand how changes within the structure of the myosin molecule lead to biochemical defects and how these abnormalities relate to the structural and physiological decline of muscles.

My ARCS Award

This award has greatly reduced my financial burden, allowing me to focus on engaging in productive research in the field. This will enhance my ability to produce high-quality publications, permitting me to make strong progress towards degree completion and in meeting my professional goals. It has also allowed me to better focus on training and mentoring undergraduates, to improve my mentoring skills and to extend a positive influence on other students. Additionally, these funds covered technology-related expenses necessary for completion of my research. I also appreciate the opportunity to network with scholars and supporters at ARCS events.

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego Chapter

Current Research

My project explores the disease mechanisms by which mutations can cause dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a type of heart disease associated with heart enlargement. DCM can be caused by mutations in genes coding for the molecular machinery responsible for heart contractions, resulting in heart pumping defects, physiological alterations, and ultimately, heart failure.

In Dr. Bernstein’s lab, I previously generated fruit fly models to determine the exact mechanistic basis of disease. I previously isolated mutant protein from our fly models, optimized a procedure to form a protein complex containing the contractile machinery, and assessed the protein complex structure using electron microscopy (collaboration with Drs. Hanein and Volkmann, Sanford Burnham Prebys). Recently, we obtained high resolution cryo-electron microscopy data to solve the structure of the mutant protein complex, to understand the structural basis of disease. Using biochemical and muscle performance assays, I determined the biochemical defects caused by two DCM mutations, and related these defects to muscle functional impairments.

Eventually, our fly models will serve as a platform for testing therapeutic strategies for ameliorating defects associated with heart disease.

Publication & Posters

Achal, M.*; Trujillo, A. S.*; Melkani, G. C.; Farman, G. P.; Ocorr, K.; Viswanathan, M. C.; Kaushik, G.; Newhard, C. S.; Glasheen, B. M.; Melkani, A.; Suggs, J. A.; Moore, J. R.; Swank, D. M.; Bodmer, R.; Cammarato, A.; Bernstein, S. I. A restrictive cardiomyopathy mutation in an invariant proline at the myosin head/rod junction enhances head flexibility and function, yielding muscle defects in drosophila. J Mol Biol 2016, 428 (11), 2446-2461.

Trujillo, A. S.; Ramos, R.; Bodmer, R.; Bernstein, S. I.; Ocorr, K.; Melkani, G. C. Drosophila as a potential model to ameliorate mutant Huntington-mediated cardiac amyloidosis. Rare diseases 2014, 2 (1).

Awards & Honors

SDSU University Graduate Fellowship; NIH NRSA F31 Diversity Pre-doctoral Fellowship; Rees-Stealy/SDSU Heart Institute Research Fellowship; Recipient of the NIH Research Supplement to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research.

Benefits to Science and Society

Though dilated cardiomyopathy represents the most common form of inherited heart disease, the molecular mechanisms of disease are not well understood. Our main goal is to better understand how the disease arises due to specific mutations, which will help us design targeted drug regimens intended to restore muscle defects in our fruit fly models. We can then use our fly models as a platform for testing promising drug candidates, to evaluate potential drug therapies for human patients.

Janet Kathleen Walker

Ph.D. Ecology (candidate)
Marine and Wetland Ecology
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

B.S. in Environmental Science
University of Virginia

Janet Walker

About Janet

The development of an embryo from a single cell has always fascinated C. J. Particularly, he is interested in the study of the genetic program of embryogenesis. His research aims to understand the advent of a particular cell type in a marine chordate, a ciliated neuron that is homologous to our inner ear hair cells. He is discovering what genes are responsible for producing this cell type. Due to our evolutionary connections to this organism that he studies, the properties of how this cell type develops are transferable to fields such as human hearing-loss research.

Personal Interests

I love backpacking and trail running with my fur-friend – Kudzu. I also enjoy teaching yoga, drinking coffee, and chasing the sunset.

My ARCS Award

With the help of the ARCS Award this past year, I had the freedom to travel to all my field sites in southern and northern California in order to conclude multiple ongoing projects, while also expanding my research into other ecosystems. Travel expenses and technician assistance are some of the biggest obstacles I have to overcome in order to finish my dissertation. The flexibility of the ARCS Award funds has allowed me to optimize my travel plans and to train multiple undergraduate assistants.

Award Donor

Virginia Lynch Grady Endowment

Current Research

Restoration success of marine plant habitats is largely determined by the abundance of foundational species, like cordgrass (Spartina spp.) in salt marshes. In fact, mitigation requirements associated with marsh habitats can list a specific target number of cordgrass plants that must be supported in the restored environment. Cordgrass has been targeted due to its amplitude of services, such as sediment accretion, flood attenuation, and habitat for endangered species. However, we often lack an understanding of the factors determining plant community structure. For example, although 1) burrowing crabs can decrease environmental stress for cordgrass and 2) crab and plant compositions differ between marshes, we lack an appreciation of how the impact of crabs on cordgrass density varies in space and time. To address this research gap, I have conducted a series of field and laboratory experiments manipulating burrowing crabs along the California coast.

As I near the end of my dissertation, my work suggests that burrowing crabs need to be considered in salt marsh management because they can strongly control the density of cordgrass – a primary target for restoration outcomes.

Publication & Posters

Walker, J.K.; Grosholz, E.D.; Long, J.D. The consequences of burrowing crabs for plant community composition and restoration. Oral Presentation, Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation. November 2019.

Walker, J.K.; Grosholz, E.D.; Long, J.D. Crab identity and density drive site-specific effects of burrowing crabs on plant community composition. Oral Presentation, California Estuarine Research Society. December 2018.

Walker, J.K.; Grosholz, E.D.; Long, J.D. Plant tissue, species, and population influence palatability for a salt marsh burrowing crab. Oral Presentation, Western Society of Naturalists. November 2018.

Walker, J.K.; Long, J.D. Site-specific effects of burrowing crabs on plant community composition in California salt marshes. Oral Presentation, Society of Wetland Scientists. June 2018.

Awards & Honors

Point Reyes National Seashore Association’s (PRNSA); Neubacher Marine Science Grant (2019); COAST Graduate Student Research Award Program (2019); U.S. National Park Service, Cabrillo National Monument, Graduate Fellow (2018-2019).

Benefits to Science and Society

Much focus of salt marsh management has been on restoring and preserving native cordgrass plants in our California marshes. In San Francisco Estuary, the Invasive Spartina Project has installed over 300,000 plants at 40 revegetation sites. However, there may be associated factors that determine the growth and success of these plants. Understanding the role of crabs in determining plant community composition, and thereby mediating plant stress, is important when considering management strategies of these cordgrass stands and overall ecosystem function.

Melissa Ann Ward

Ph.D. Marine Ecology (candidate)
Ocean Biogeochemistry, Chemical Oceanography
Joint SDSU & UC Davis

B.S. in Biological Sciences
UC Irvine

Melissa Ward

About Melissa

Seagrass meadows improve water quality, stabilize sediments, and are home to many economically and ecologically valuable species; yet most of California’s seagrass meadows have been lost. By exploring the ability of seagrass to sequester carbon and alter water chemistry, we can quantitatively evaluate the carbon services gained through seagrass conservation and restoration. This work will help inform state and federal management efforts to restore these habitats while maximizing the carbon services they provide, which will become increasingly more important in the face of climate change.

My ARCS Award

The help the ARCS award provides not only relieves financial stress, but it encourages and inspires me to continue my research. As I move from my PhD to pursue a career as a scientist, I hope that I can continue to conduct high caliber research that explores innovative solutions in climate change management. Given that my priorities and goals fall in step with those of the ARCS Foundation, I am grateful to be a part of this unique community of scholars, where I can contribute to the growing body of research they produce. I would not be where I am today without this scholarship and community!

Award Donor

Reuben H. Fleet Foundation Fund

Current Research

My research investigates the role that seagrasses play in coastal carbon cycling. Seagrasses have been noted for their disproportionally high ability to remove CO2 from seawater through primary production and burial in sediment. Simultaneously, seagrass coverage has been declining rapidly on both global and local scales. As such, state and federal agencies have been directed to consider seagrass conservation and restoration as strategies to enhance carbon stocks and locally ameliorate impacts from ocean acidification (OA), a service that provides economic and ecological value. However, to date, there is no data on the potential of California seagrasses to lessen the impacts of OA or store carbon in their underlying sediments. The State has been hindered by lack of data on how to select optimal locations for seagrass restoration and conservation to maximize these benefits.

Publication & Posters

Ward, M.; Hill, T. M.; Ricart, A.; Gaylord, B.; O’Donnell, B C.; Capece, L.; Shukla, P., Kroeker, K.; Sanford, E.; Oechel, W. Synthesizing multiple carbon fluxes in a temperate, Pacific seagrass meadow. Global Biogeochem. Cycles (in review).

Kroeker, K.; Kindinger, T.; Hirsh, H.; Ward, M.; Koweek, D.; Hill, T.; Jellison, B.; Lummis, S.; Rivest, E.; Waldbusser, G.; Gaylord, B. Seagrass community metabolism studies reveal opportunities and challenges for local mitigation of ocean acidification. Ecological Applications​ (in review).

Ward, M. San Francisco State University, Distinguished speaker series. Title: Carbon services of California coastal habitats. San Francisco, CA 2018.

Ward, M.A.; Hill, T.M.; Ricart, A.; Gaylord, B.; O’Donnell, B.C.; Shukla, P.; Kroeker, K.; Oechel, W.C. 2018. A synthesis of seagrass carbon services: Implications for restoration and climate change management. Poster presentation. 9th National Summit on Coastal and Estuarine Restoration and Management.

Awards & Honors

Geological Society of America Graduate Student grant winner 2019; Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Fellowship Winner 2018; Rafe Sagarin Fund for Innovative Ecology, Best Talk- 2nd place, Western Society of Naturalists 2017; UC-wide Carbon Neutrality Competition: People’s Choice Award 2016.

Benefits to Science and Society

My research will fill these knowledge gaps in order to quantitatively evaluate the carbon services gained through seagrass conservation and restoration.

Joi LaGrace Weeks

Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (candidate)
Developmental Genetics
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.S. in Biology
Rhode Island College

Joi Weeks

About Joi

To study amplified malate dehydrogenase 1 (MDH1) in lung cancer, Joi created two cell clones that reveal increased MDH1 levels and enzymatic activity in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Metabolic studies on MDH1 knock out (KO) cells reveal a 50% reduction in TCA cycling suggesting that decreased activity of MDH1 has the potential to slow down tumor progression. Her studies will increase our understanding about the effects of changing MDH1 levels on cell behavior and how changes in MDH1 activity can eradicate cancer cells.

Personal Interests

Joi also enjoys running, reading, making jewelry, gardening and spending time at the beach with her family.

My ARCS Award

The ARCS Foundation Award means security and productivity to me. What I mean is that the ARCS Award has allowed me to investigate the activity of MDH1 in squamous NSCLC within the confines of a small research group. This opportunity would not be possible without funding as our research group is young and quickly acquiring undergraduates, so help is greatly needed to support the graduate students. Plus, I acutely felt the impact of a challenging funding climate as my previous lab was forced to eliminate a project and personnel due to a grant ending, requiring me to find a new lab. Since all of my funds are from outside sources such as ARCS, I was able to seamlessly move on to a new research group without the worry of delayed or suspended pay. Now I’m in a new lab that values my biological expertise and seeks to help me grow as a scientist, regardless of the ebb and flow of lab grants. Also, by focusing on science, progress on my new project allowed me the opportunity to present my findings and connect with other scientists at the American Association for Cancer Researchers this April.

Award Donor

Legler Benbough Foundation

Current Research

To study amplified malate dehydrogenase 1 (MDH1) in lung cancer, Joi created fourteen single cell clones as a tool in squamous non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells. Levels of MDH1 were found to be more than five times higher in two of the clones compared to the other 12 and to have increased MDH1 enzymatic activity over the control. Preliminary metabolic studies on MDH1 knock out (KO) cells reveal that KO cells have a ~50% reduction in tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycling revealing a decrease in lactate secretion and decreased lipid synthesis compared to wild type (WT) cells. A physical result of decreased TCA cycling is that the KO cells grow ~50% slower than WT cells.

Growth rescue experiments reveal that pyruvate and alpha-ketobutyric acid can partially rescue the growth of KO cells. Such experiments suggest that decreased activity of MDH1 has the potential to slow down tumor progression.

Publication & Posters

Weeks, J.; Wells, G.; Alexander, S.; Metallo, C.; Sohl, C.D. Investigating the reversible MDH1 catalytic reaction in squamous non-small cell lung cancer. Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research, Atlanta, GA March 28-April 3, 2019; Vol 60; Philadelphia, PA, 2019.

Huang, C.H.; Mendez, N.; Echeagaray, O.H.; Weeks, J.; Wang, J.; Vallez, C.; Gude, N.; Trogler, W.; Carson, D.; Hayashi, T.; Kummel, A.C. Conjugation of a small molecule TLR7 agonist to silica nanoshells enhances adjuvant activity. ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2019, 11, 30, 26637-26647.

Wang, J.; Barback, C.V.; Ta, C. N.; Weeks, J.; Gude, N.; Mattrey, R.F.; Blair, S.L.; Trogler, W.C.; Lee, H.; Kummel, A.C. Extended lifetime in vivo pulse stimulated ultrasound imaging. IEEE Trans Med Imaging. 2018, 37, 1, 222-229.

Awards & Honors

The ARCS Foundation Award means security and productivity to me. What I mean is that the ARCS Award has allowed me to investigate the activity of MDH1 in squamous NSCLC within the confines of a small research group. This opportunity would not be possible without funding as our research group is young and quickly acquiring undergraduates, so help is greatly needed to support the graduate students. Plus, I acutely felt the impact of a challenging funding climate as my previous lab was forced to eliminate a project and personnel due to a grant ending, requiring me to find a new lab. Since all of my funds are from outside sources such as ARCS, I was able to seamlessly move on to a new research group without the worry of delayed or suspended pay. Now I’m in a new lab that values my biological expertise and seeks to help me grow as a scientist, regardless of the ebb and flow of lab grants. Also, by focusing on science, progress on my new project allowed me the opportunity to present my findings and connect with other scientists at the American Association for Cancer Researchers this April.

Benefits to Science and Society

Joi’s studies will increase our understanding about how microenvironmental pH can alter cellular MDH1 activity, the effects of amplifying and decreasing MDH1 levels on cell behavior, and how changes in MDH1 activity can lead to the eradication of squamous NSCLC cells. It is her hope that once she demonstrates that reduced MDH1 activity is specifically detrimental to squamous NSCLC cells, future work will be done to create MDH1 inhibitors that will have the potential to be used as anti-tumor therapies for squamous NSCLC patients.

Nicholas Benjamin Williams

Ph.D. Chemistry (candidate)
Inorganic Chemistry
Joint SDSU & UC San Diego

B.A. in Chemistry
Washington and Jefferson College

B.A. in Economics
Washington and Jefferson College

Nicholas Williams

About Nicholas

Currently, Nick is investigating the decomposition of a molecular catalyst-semiconductor hybrid system designed to produce Hydrogen gas. Understanding the mechanism of decomposition has led to the design of better molecular catalysts expected to inhibit degradation during the photoelectrochemical production of Hydrogen. Fundamental studies such as this are necessary for the rational design of better, more efficient and cost-effective solar fuel producing systems in the times to come which we so readily need.

Personal Interests

I enjoy camping at places like Death Valley, Yellowstone, and the Black hills. I like to bake my own bread.

My ARCS Award

Throughout the last year, whether I was working in lab, reading literature or communicating with scientists and colleagues, I was always learning. Most of the time I was stressed or tired, but thanks to the ARCS Award, the burden of finances was very much alleviated. It gave me the freedom to sit down over the weekends and learn some new fields of sciences related to my work, such as the area of self-assembled monolayers and ion scattering spectroscopy or potential organic liquids for hydrogen storage applications, that I may not have had the time to do. The ARCS Award has been a phenomenal help, and going forward this upcoming year working solely on advancing my PhD, I am truly excited for what I will learn in the year to come

Award Donor

ARCS Foundation – San Diego
Virginia Lynch Grady Endowment

Current Research

Our lab studies the evolution of ciliated epidermal sensory neuron (CESN) development during embryogenesis using the marine invertebrate chordate Ciona robusta. Pou4, a proneural transcription factor (TF) involved in C. robusta peripheral nervous system development is necessary and sufficient for CESN differentiation.

My primary research focus aims to understand how CESNs differentiate, thus, what are the factors involved in activating Pou4? I am approaching this question in a number of ways. By having reviewed relevant literature, TF binding motif analyses, and an RNA-seq database I generated, I made informed predictions regarding genes, i.e. potential Pou4 activators and repressors, expressed in the correct pre-Pou4 location. This approach has revealed TFs that when ectopically expressed seem to increase the number of CESNs indicating activation of Pou4, and genes that decrease the number of CESNs indicating repression of Pou4. Once individual proteins are identified, I perform an overexpression screen and a CRISPR screen to establish their role as either Pou4 activators or repressors.

Publication & Posters

Fang, C.; Li J.; Zhang, Y.; Yang, F.; Lee, J.L.; Lee, M.; Alvarado, J.; Wang, X.; Schroeder, M.; Yang, Y.; Williams, N.; Ceja, M.; Yang, L.; Cai, M.; Gu, J.; Xu, K.; Wang, X.; Meng, Y.S. Quantifying inactive lithium in lithium metal batteries. Nature 2019 572, 511-515.

Huang, Y.; Sun, Y.; Zheng, X.; Aoki, T.; Pattengale, B.; Huang, J.; He, X.; Bian, W.; Younan, S.; Williams, N.; Hu, J.; Ge, J.; Pu, N.; Yan, X.; Pan, X.; Zhang, L.; Wei, Y.; Gu, J. Atomically engineering activation sites onto metallic 1T-MoS2 catalysts for enhanced electrochemical hydrogen evolution. Nature Communications 2019, 10 (1).

Zhou, Y.-H.; Wang, S.; Zhang, Z.; Williams, N.; Cheng, Y.; Gu, J. Hollow nickel-cobalt layered double hydroxide supported palladium catalysts with superior hydrogen evolution activity for hydrolysis of ammonia borane. ChemCatChem 2018, 10 (15), 3206–3213.

Zhou Y.-H.; Zhang, Z.; Wang, S.; Williams, N.; Cheng, Y.; Luo, S.; Gu J. rGO supported PdNi-CeO2 nanocomposite as an efficient catalyst for hydrogen evolution from the hydrolysis of NH3BH3. Int. J. Hydrog. Energy 2018 43, 18745-18753.

Awards & Honors

National Renewable Energy Lab Summer research internship, July 2019; SDSU Dept. Chemistry and Biochemistry Outstanding Masters Research Award, Fall 2017; ARCS Foundation, Inc. – San Diego Award, Fall 2017 to Present.

Benefits to Science and Society

In catalyst development, the major focus lies in designing better catalysts with understanding the limitation and pitfalls taking a backseat. This work offers insight into the reasons why a very particular and specific system failed. The methodology however can be used on a broader level applied to a wide variety of catalysts. Developing an understanding for why a catalyst fails can aid in the designing of better structures in the future.

 

Pin It on Pinterest