Get to know sixteen women scientists at UT Health San Antonio and learn what inspired them to pursue a career in science.
Photos by Noell Vidaurri.
Angelica Salinas is a graduate student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program. She works with Dr. Martin Paukert in the Department of Physiology (UT Health San Antonio) and focuses on the role of astrocytes in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the noradrenergic system. She hopes to find mechanistic changes in this system as the disease progresses using animal models of this disease. Through a better understanding of what occurs at a cellular level, she can further investigate potential therapeutic targets. During her time in graduate school, she has participated in multiple volunteer events as well as local symposiums. She has received a travel award to present her work at the first annual NEURAL conference at University of Alabama at Birmingham. Angelica is originally from a small town in South Texas called Citrus City. She graduated from St. Mary’s University in May 2014 with a B.S. in Biochemistry before joining The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio as a graduate student in the fall of 2014. Her hobbies include two-stepping, running, and reading. She also enjoys the company of her dog and cat.
Breeanne Soteros is a graduate student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program. She is studying the genetic components that underlie synaptic formation and maintenance in the central nervous system.
“My fascination with neuroscience began with a simple curiosity about how we think and perceive the world around us. This curiosity eventually developed into a deep desire to understand the basic, biological mechanisms that make us who we are.”
Breeanne received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology, magna cum laude, from the University of Texas at Arlington. In 2013, She became a recipient of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars award, in recognition for her potential in doctoral studies. Following graduation, Breeanne taught pre-college STEM courses for students underrepresented in higher education. “As a first-generation college student,” she says, “I am aware of the sociocultural and economic barriers that can often discourage academic advancement. With mentorship and guidance, we can help others overcome these barriers and keep their goals in sight.”
Dr. Bridget Ford is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Yves Gorin in the Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology. Her research focuses on identifying mechanisms involved in renal cell injury in diabetic kidney disease, with a particular emphasis on oxidative stress pathways. She received her Ph.D. at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio in August 2012 under the mentorship of the late Dr. Hanna E. Abboud. In addition to her work as a postdoctoral fellow, Bridget is an adjunct professor at her undergraduate alma mater, St. Mary’s University, where she teaches in the department of Biological Sciences. Bridget has a strong aspiration to combine her devotion to science with her love for education and mentorship. It is her wish to impart this fervor to students in such a way that it gives back to the students she teaches in and out of the classroom and laboratory. A statement made by Lee Iacocca in his autobiography sums up this sentiment for her, In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have. Bridget is a native San Antonian and loves lazy Sundays with her husband and two (adorable) kids.
Christina George is a graduate student in the Pharmacology & Physiology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program in Dr. Lynette Daws’ lab. She is currently studying the role of the dopamine transporter in a rodent model of anorexia. She initially became interested in studying the underlying mechanisms of psychiatric disorders while working on her bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Psychology, which she obtained from Our Lady of the Lake University. As an undergrad, she was chosen to become a McNair Scholar which enabled her to conduct summer research in the field of Pharmacology with Dr. Lance McMahon. While there, she decided to pursue her graduate education in the interdisciplinary graduate program at UT Health San Antonio. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, and painting.
Corena Shaffer is a graduate student in the Pharmacology & Physiology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program. She is working in the lab of Dr. Susan Mooberry. Corena’s project aims to identify natural product-derived compounds targeting the subtypes of triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Triple negative breast cancers are the only form of breast cancers for which highly effective, targeted therapies do not exist. Corena hopes to fill this critical need by identifying novel drug leads and elucidating their mechanisms of action. Her success thus far is demonstrated by publications and presentations at both the local and national level. Corena is active at the University, serving on the Department of Pharmacology’s Graduate Student Symposium planning committee, as the Outreach Chair of WISDOM, and as a Graduate School Representative in the Student Legacy Circle. Originally from Pennsylvania, Corena completed her Bachelor’s of Science in Pharmacology and Toxicology with a minor in Forensic Science at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia in 2014. She spends her free time as an online health and fitness coach, playing board games, and exploring San Antonio and the surrounding area with her fiancé.
Crystal Khan is a fifth year graduate student in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry discipline of the Integrated Multidisciplinary Graduate Program now called Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program. Upon entry to college, she became fascinated by biology and first encountered the idea of becoming a scientific researcher. After her freshman year, she set out to find a research laboratory that would train her. She began in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Fitzpatrick as a dishwasher. In the Fitzpatrick lab, she became enthralled by the research on enzymes and their mechanisms. After one year, she began her undergraduate research and it was then she found her passion in enzymology, working on the enzyme tyrosine hydroxylase. Her research focuses on the mechanism of phenylalanine hydroxylase, an enzyme important in the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria. The acquisition of novel knowledge of the regulation of phenylalanine hydroxylase will help to better understand the enzyme and in result, phenylketonuria. Ultimately, Crystal would like to be a professor at an undergraduate university and aid underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
Danielle Santana Coelho is a graduate student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program and is working with Dr. Jason O’Connor investigating environmental and genetic factors involved in the disruption of neurodevelopment. She is passionate towards understanding the mechanisms by which neurodevelopment is disrupted in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. Her goal is to discover new markers and targets for the prevention and/or treatment of those disorders. Dani has received several scholarships through her college and graduate school including the Scientific Initiation Scholarship (Bachelors) and the Science Without Borders Scholarship that allowed her to do her Ph.D. studies at UT Health San Antonio. Dani is originally from Brazil, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences and Master’s Degree in Neuroscience from the Federal University of Pará before joining the Graduate School of Biomedical Science at UT Health San Antonio as a graduate student. In her free time she enjoys spending some quality time with her friends and family, trying new restaurants in town, listening to music and cooking.
Elizabeth Ochoa is a graduate student in the Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at UT Health San Antonio. As a Latina scientist and first generation graduate student, Elizabeth understands how important it is to make science enjoyable and accessible to eager young scientists and the need to support minorities in research. She was inspired to be a scientist from a young age by both her natural curiosity about the world around her, and from seeing females in STEM roles on TV shows like The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Star Trek: Voyager. After completing a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from Seattle University, Elizabeth returned to her birth place San Antonio to pursue graduate education and training in biomedical sciences. Currently her research focuses on the cellular mechanisms of the synapse in neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism and schizophrenia. Such disorders can develop from a wide variety of factors, and Elizabeth is interested in understanding more about how the cellular processes that regulate synapse formation can be different in these conditions. She also serves as the secretary of the newly formed women in science group, WISDOM.
Mariam Ishaque is a dual-degree student in the M.D./Ph.D. program at UT Health San Antonio. She is currently a third year medical student in the Lozano Long School of Medicine. She received her Ph.D. in Neuroscience Imaging in 2016, and her doctoral work consisted of using advanced neuroimaging methods to define the structural and functional pathology in pediatric anoxic brain injury. Mariam has been a neuroscience aficionado for most of her life, and she hopes to continue pursuing this passion after medical school as a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist. Ultimately, she hopes to utilize her training to help reduce the burdens of neurological disease.
Meghan Guzman is a third-year graduate student in the Microbiology & Immunology Molecular Genetics program (now called the Infection, Inflammation and Immunity (Triple I) Discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Graduate Program). She is in Dr. Philip T. LoVerde’s laboratory studying the parasitic blood fluke, Schistosoma. She aims to understand the genetic basis of drug resistance in Schistosoma spp., as well as work together with the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery at The University of Texas San Antonio and structural biologists at UT Health San Antonio to develop and test novel therapeutics to treat human schistosomiasis. She has always had a passion for helping others through different avenues, be it community service or outreach events. Now, that avenue has become her research, as her work has the ability to impact millions in endemic areas who are affected by this disease. Meghan has been awarded various travel awards to present her research, one of which being the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Student Travel Award to attend the ASM Microbe 2017 conference in New Orleans. She also serves as the vice-president of the newly formed women in science group, WISDOM. Meghan is a proud Texan. She was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, and attended the University of Texas Pan-American, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Pre-Medical Biology in 2014. Her hobbies include reading, traveling, and spending time with friends.
Melodi Bowman is a graduate student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at UT Health San Antonio. Before joining UT Health in 2015, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University. Following graduation, she worked for a contract research company for four years before deciding to pursue higher education. She then went on to obtain her master’s degree in psychological research from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). While at UT Health, she has received a scholarship from the Council for Excellence in Women’s Health (2016) as well as a NIH Predoctoral Training Program for Neurosciences training grant (2016-2017). She also helped form a group for women in science. Throughout her career, her main research interests have been in understanding the mechanism of action of antidepressant medications. Currently, her project in Dr. Lynnette Daws’ labfocuses on understanding how ketamine produces an antidepressant effect in order to improve current antidepressant medications. She also enjoys playing soccer, going for hikes, and listening to music.
Mikaela Sifuentes is a graduate student in Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at the Graduate School, where she studies the mechanism of thyroid hormone treatment of stroke under the mentorship of Dr. Jim Lechleiter. She is a self-funded research scientist, having been awarded predoctoral fellowships from the American Heart Association and the Institute for Integration of Medicine & Science. Outside of the lab, she volunteers as President of the Graduate Student Association, and she leads a Science Policy Interest group for students and trainees at UT Health San Antonio. Mikaela is frequently engaged in science outreach and advocacy, and she is passionate about improving communication between scientists and the public.
Nancy Nguyen is a graduate student in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program in Dr. Reto Asmis’ laboratory. She is investigating the effects of the phytochemical ursolic acid and its analogues on atherosclerosis. Her work has led to multiple publications and two fellowships. In 2015, she received a Translational Science Training Program award from the Institute for the Integration of Medicine and Science and in 2016, an American Heart Association pre-doctoral fellowship to continue her translational work. She has also received the Paul M. Horowitz award from the Biochemistry Department for outstanding graduate student of the year. Her goal after graduation is to become an independent investigator and mentor young scientists. Nancy is a San Antonio native. She attended Trinity University, where she obtained a B.S. in Biology and B.A. in Art History. She enjoys exploring new restaurants, cooking, trail running, fostering stray animals and supporting the Spurs.
Dr. Neelam Mukherjee is a postdoc in the Department of Urology (UT Health San Antonio) and is working with Dr. Robert Svatek in translational bladder immunology. She is passionate towards making a difference in bladder cancer research during her career both as a postdoc and as a future independent scientist. She is driven towards the betterment of patient care through the direct translation of bladder cancer research from bench to bedside which her lab specializes in. Neelam has received several awards both during her college and graduate school including the Ranker Student Awards (Bachelors and Masters) and GSBS travel award for presenting her research work at AACR annual meeting, 2015. Neelam is originally from Kolkata, India and earned her Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree in Microbiology from University of Calcutta before joining The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio as a graduate student. She graduated from there in 2015 with her Ph.D. in Integrated Multidisciplinary program (IMGP) now called the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program. She enjoys Bollywood and country music, reading, writing, hanging out with her parents, friends and her cat.
Roma Kaul is a third year graduate student in the Cancer Biology discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program of the Graduate School at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. She is pursuing her dissertation in the laboratory of Dr. Susan L Mooberry, in the field of cancer pharmacology. Roma’s penchant for problem-solving prompted her to get an undergraduate degree in engineering while in parallel, she developed a passion for breast cancer research. Her early laboratory training was in the field of cancer genetics and epigenetics, while her current research focuses on understanding the molecular and cell biology of breast cancer using pharmacological tools. She believes that her multidisciplinary training will allow her to decipher tumor heterogeneity using novel approaches and allow for the development of precision medicine for the treatment of breast cancer. Roma is originally from Bangalore, India, where she earned her degree in Bachelor of Engineering before joining the IBMS program at UT Health San Antonio for her doctoral education. Roma has received numerous awards throughout her undergraduate and graduate education. She was the recipient of an Avon-AACR International Scholar-in-Training award that supported her attendance at an AACR-sponsored meeting in 2013. She is also an active member of the student body: she serves as a graduate school representative on the Student Government Association (SGA), as treasurer of WISDOM and an advisor on the UT Health Advisory Board. As a formally trained Indian classical dancer, Roma is highly passionate about cultural arts and enjoys painting, reading mystery novels and adventure sports.
Tara Holmgren is a graduate student in the Neuroscience discipline of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program in the lab of Dr. Jun Hee Kim, where she studies brain development and glial physiology. A Minnesota native, Tara became interested in neuroscience in high school and decided to get out of the cold to attend Trinity University’s prestigious neuroscience program. She is the founding president of a group for women in science at UT Health San Antonio called WISDOM, which aims to provide professional development, mentorship, and support for women scientists, as well as involvement in the community through outreach. She hopes to empower young women to pursue their interests in male-dominated STEM fields.
This article was written by Charlotte Anthony, marketing specialist at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. This article is part of the “Meet The Researcher” series which showcases researchers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.