Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar Award | Spotlight

Award-winning student to perform in HIV prevention research

CSULA microbiology major selected as a Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar

Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar Award:

The CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) has partnered with the Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research to fund promising undergraduate student research projects in topics related to women’s health. Together the Howell Foundation and CSUPERB recognize that research experience is critical to recruiting, training and retaining students interested in careers in women’s health research. The great majority of Howell-CSUPERB scholars graduate and go on to apply successfully for graduate degree programs and industry jobs.

24th CSU Biotechnology Symposium:

The symposium, organized by CSUPERB, aims to make connections between innovative life science research and the impacts it has on society, to highlight cutting-edge biotechnologies, and to inspire students for success in the global economy.

2012 CSUPERB Faculty Research Award:

The CSUPERB also honored Feimeng Zhou, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Cal State L.A., with the coveted 2012 Faculty Research Award at this year’s CSU Biotechnology Conference. The Faculty Research Award honors a California State University (CSU) faculty member who has demonstrated outstanding scientific achievement in the CSU’s biotechnology research effort.

An esteemed chemist, Zhou has been instrumental in enhancing and building the infrastructure for biomedical research at CSULA, and has served as the director of the Research Infrastructure in Minority Institution Program for the past six years. For more info: /univ/

Photo of Jazma Tapia.

Jazma Tapia, who originally moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles to become an actress, now takes center stage in research focused on identifying new factors that may play an important role in the prevention of HIV transmission.

A microbiology major at Cal State L.A., Tapia is one of only 11 “star” students from seven different CSU campuses honored with the Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar Award at the 24th CSU Biotechnology Symposium held in Santa Clara earlier this month.

Under the mentorship of CSULA Professor Edith Porter, Tapia will begin conducting research on “Assessing Lipid-derived Innate Immune Factors in Amniotic Fluid and Vernix Caseosa Protecting Against Intrauterine Infections.” They will collaborate together with Yvonne Bryson of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine.

Photo of Jazma Tapia and Edith Porter.
CSULA Professor Edith Porter instructs Howell-CSUPERB Research Scholar Jazma Tapia on how to use a liposome extruder.

“This research is important,” explained Tapia. “It may lead to clinical applications in the protection of the fetus in the uterus, such as contributions to the development of new and creative drugs that target pathogen transmission from mother to child.”

Tapia—who discovered her “real” passion in science while taking a microbiology class at Los Angeles City College (LACC), where she was also enrolled in performance art courses—shared: “During that class, I realized that I wanted to make a difference in helping others to be healthy. Health is important to me and, being a woman, women’s health research is central to my goal of finding ways to protect the human life against infectious diseases through safe and effective interventions.”

The research team hypothesizes that amniotic fluid (clear liquid that surrounds the fetus) and vernix caseosa (waxy substance on fetus skin) are effector molecules of the innate immune system, providing a natural defense against pathogens that cross the placenta and cause fetal infections in a fraction of pregnancies. For example, mother-to-fetus HIV transmission occurs in about 15–40 percent of HIV infected women only.

Tapia said, “Our short-term goals are to isolate lipids from amniotic fluid and vernix caseosa collected from healthy pregnant women and their babies, to test the activity of these lipids against the bacterial strain, Listeria monocytogenes, as indicator microorganism, and to establish in our laboratory an HIV reporter system.”

According to Porter, an expert in medical microbiology and innate immunity, “The battle against HIV is still ongoing—antiviral drugs have been plagued by the development of viral resistance, and vaccine efforts that build on the adaptive immune system have been mostly ineffective.” She said, “Exploring how the innate immune system contributes to natural anti-HIV activity may lead to effective anti-HIV treatment and prophylaxis. We are excited to synergize our experience in innate immunity with Dr. Bryson’s expertise in HIV research.

“Thanks to LACC, Jazma has chosen to study microbiology and join our lab,” Porter added. “It has been a pleasure to work with Jazma. She is the perfect student for this project: she brings with her the compassion, dedication, attention to detail, and vision that are required to conduct this study successfully.”

A participant of the Minority Biomedical Research Support Program-Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (MBRS-RISE) and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP) on campus, Tapia hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in immunology upon completing her bachelor’s degree in microbiology at CSULA.

She said, “I would like to either work in a government scientific research setting, or run my own scientific research laboratory in an academic, industrial or government setting.”

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