UTA student’s ‘tenacious work ethic’ leads to national award

NIH recognizes biology student’s promising research into programmed cell death

Friday, Oct 14, 2022 • Linsey Retcofsky :

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Karen Juanez, UTA postbaccalaureate researcher in biology

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) has awarded an alumna and postbaccalaureate researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington its competitive Diversity Supplement Award.

Karen Juanez (’20 BS, Biology; BS, Microbiology) received a two-year, $130,690 grant to support her research into programmed cell death under the supervision of Piya Ghose, assistant professor of biology. The award supplements prior NIGMS funding received by Ghose as part of a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award/Outstanding Investigator Award.

Many of our cells are destined to die as part of normal biological development. Moreover, many of our cells have highly intricate architecture, such as our brains cells. Yet how these complex cells are eliminated remains largely a mystery.

Under the supervision of Ghose, Juanez and other researchers investigate this problem by studying a cell-killing phenomenon that Ghose has named compartmentalized cell elimination. The lab aims to better understand this process in relation to neurodegeneration and cancer.

With no prior laboratory research experience, Juanez started as a technician in the Ghose lab the semester after she graduated from UTA. Seeing her potential, Ghose asked Juanez to lead independent research projects. Within two years, Juanez discovered that an unexpected cell component has a surprising role in cell death. In February 2022, she and Ghose published a review in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. By July, Juanez had been invited to give two presentations about her work at scientific meetings at the University of Vienna.

Ghose said Juanez’s accomplishments reflect her curiosity and tenacious work ethic. Juanez joined Ghose’s lab only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic forced its closure but continued working as much as possible and learning as much as she could as a new researcher while the team navigated its new normal.

“Karen has accomplished a lot in a very short amount of time,” Ghose said. “It’s been really amazing to watch her progress. The joy and motivation with which she does the work is inspiring to the entire lab.”

Juanez’s family has greatly influenced her scientific pursuits.

“My parents and older sister do everything with positivity, dedication and enthusiasm,” she said. “Making the most of the opportunities presented during my time in the lab is an avenue to honor my family.”

Just as her family has paved the way for her success, Juanez plans to use her opportunities to create a better future for other scientists like her.

“There may be aspiring scientists who don’t realize opportunities like this exist,” she said. “I hope my story and my research will inspire others to pursue their interests and see how far they can go.”


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