The Translational Science Training (TST) TL1 Program at UT Health San Antonio is supported by a NIH / National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a federally funded career development training program for improving the scope of predoctoral trainees and postdoctoral fellows research experience. The TL1 ‘Training Linked’ Program is linked to the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) administered by the Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science (IIMS) at UT Health San Antonio. The competitive award includes stipend support for TL1 scholars in addition to training and mentorship in translational science.
Dr. Riojas returns to UT Health San Antonio after having attended Graduate School here for several years before moving to Wake Forest School of Medicine with her lab to complete her doctoral degree in Molecular Medicine and Translational Science.
“After not being able to visit family due to the COVID pandemic, I knew I wanted to return to Texas,” she said. “I was lucky to find a great opportunity to continue doing translational research in the next phase of my career and come back home.”
In collaboration with the Southwest National Primate Research Center, Dr. Riojas is working on a project investigating the impact of maternal diet during pregnancy on their adult offspring’s metabolism using a nonhuman primate model.
“This project is interesting because it looks at two key metabolic tissues: the liver, and skeletal muscle. Our group will perform genetic network analysis on both the liver and skeletal muscle and relate gene expression from whole transcriptome sequencing with functional imaging via magnetic resonance spectroscopy,” she said. “Identifying the underlying genetic mechanisms means we can intervene early and possibly shift the outcomes for metabolic diseases in many individuals.”
She explains that her passion for genetics stems from her time as an undergraduate student.
“I was able to successfully isolate DNA from plant leaves. Although DNA isolation is a routine lab task, the anticipation while running my samples on an agarose gel and seeing the beautiful band confirming my success, inspired me to learn more,” she said. “The more I learned, the more I was hooked on science and specifically genetics. To this day, I continue to have the same feeling of excitement in all my research endeavors.”
Dr. Riojas explains that she is passionate about using genetic analysis in complex diseases to better understand the different ways gene expression is regulated.
“Complex diseases are influenced by our family history at the genetic level, and also our environment at the epigenetic level. One environmental factor that impacts our entire life is maternal diet during development,” she said. If we can understand how maternal diets impacts metabolic disease outcomes, we can make health-conscious choices and may prevent disease in future generations before it needs to be managed.”
As a TL1 scholar, she will continue her research in translational science.
“Developing preclinical and translational disease models is a major step toward finding new treatments and cures,” she said. “This award means I can continue my training as a scientist while working on projects that improve healthcare for historically underrepresented populations in biomedicine.”
Outside of school, she is a member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in STEM (SACNAS). She also likes spending time outdoors with her dog, going to state parks, paddle boarding, kayaking, gardening, and spending time with her family.
In the future, she hopes to become an academic researcher and train and mentor young scientists.
“I plan to use my research time to answer scientific questions that increase equity in precision medicine,” she said.”