Mentor Name:
Melodie Weller

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor




Project Description:

**This project is a part of the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a University of Utah faculty member. SPUR 2021 begins on May 26 and ends on August 5. If you are interested in this project, please review all program information on the SPUR site. If you wish to apply to this project, you must apply using the SPUR 2021 application.**

Chronic environmental pathogen exposures are potential triggers in the development of autoimmune diseases. The Weller Lab studies the role of select environmental exposures in the development of a chronic autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s syndrome. This female-predominant autoimmune disease affects 1-4 million people in the United States and is characterized by decreased saliva and tear production, inflammation in the salivary gland tissues and development of autoantibodies. Low-level, chronic viral exposures in connection with genetic susceptibility factors contribute to the underlying mechanisms of this chronic autoimmune disease. The Weller Lab has focused on further characterizing viral signatures and identifying routes of exposure in Sjogren’s syndrome patients. Projects in the lab utilize viral-genome sequencing, microarray gene expression analysis, bioinformatics, infectious disease epidemiology, immunohistochemistry and cell culture to further define the role of chronic viral exposures in the development of autoimmunity. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of viral-mediated triggers of Sjogren’s syndrome to 1) identify routes of pathogen exposure, 2) further define mechanisms supporting viral persistence and 3) develop targeted therapeutics.

Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position

Student Role:

This project will involve the characterization of viruses associated with the development of Sjogren's syndrome. The student will work closely with the principle investigator and members of the research team to receive training in multiple techniques that may include immunohistochemistry, ELISA-based approach to detect viral proteins and antibodies to viruses, immunoprecipitation to isolate viral proteins for further characterization, viral sequencing and pathway analysis. Student will also be responsible for assisting research team with literature reviews, preparing results for publication and archiving of data. Weekly group and one-on-one meetings will be held to discuss ongoing projects in lab and to present students’ research in progress. Remote Contingency Plan: The contingency plan for the student in case the SPUR work must be done remotely would consist of epidemiological studies of global and local infectious disease datasets, utilizing in-house and public viral sequencing datasets to identify novel viral signatures associated with autoimmunity and further analysis of in-house and publicly available data sets to better understand the underlying mechanisms of Sjogren's syndrome. This work can be conducted 100% remotely with regular virtual meetings with the research team and PI or in combination with in-person research if there is partial restrictions on in-person research during SPUR 2021 summer program.

Student Benefits:

The primary goal of this summer research experience is to offer students the opportunity to gain laboratory experience, hands-on training in scientific techniques, further develop critical thinking skills and to work on a research project aimed at improving the lives of those with chronic autoimmune disease. The student will also gain experience in extensive literature review, hypothesis development and study design. Together, this summer research experience will provide the foundation for future academic and scientific career development.

Project Duration:

35-40 hours per week on research and program-related activities, begins May 26, 2021, and ends August 5, 2021

Minimum Requirements:

Admission to the program is competitive. Applicants must meet all of the following criteria: 1) be a matriculated, degree-seeking undergraduate student in the Fall 2021 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2021 and not graduating before December 2021; concurrent enrollment while in high school does not meet this eligibility requirement). Applicants do not need to be a University of Utah student. 2) eligible to work in the United States: If you are a University of Utah Dreamer (with or without DACA), you are eligible to participate. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but might not be able to be compensated. For more information, please contact Megan Shannahan at megan.shannahan@utah.edu or 801-581-2478. If you are an international student or scholar, you must either a) be a degree-seeking undergraduate student at an American institution of higher education and verify with your institution’s international center that your visa allows you to participate in this program, OR b) possess documentation that establishes your eligibility to work in the United States (if you hold US citizenship, it is likely you have these documents). 3) able to commit to approximately 35-40 hours per week of employment at the University of Utah for the entire duration of the program (May 26-August 5, 2021). 4) at least 18 years old by May 24, 2021 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing). Please note that no previous college coursework or previous research experience is required.