SPUR 2022: VIRAL-MEDIATED AUTOIMMUNITY: TRACKING ENVIRONMENTAL PATHOGEN EXPOSURES LEADING TO SJOGREN’S SYNDROME

Mentor Name:
Melodie Weller

Mentor Position:
Assistant Professor

Department:

College:
Dentistry

Email:
Melodie.Weller@hsc.utah.edu


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 2022 begins on May 25 and ends on August 4. 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 2022 application.**

Environmental pathogen exposures have been thought to be triggers in the development of chronic diseases. The Weller Lab studies the role of select environmental pathogens 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 are thought to be the underlying triggers of this chronic autoimmune disease. Our lab has focused on further characterizing these viral signatures, mechanisms of pathology and identifying routes of exposure in patient populations. Projects in the lab utilize viral-genome sequencing, bioinformatics, immunohistochemistry and cell culture to define the underlying mechanism(s) of autoimmunity. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of viral-mediated triggers of Sjogren’s syndrome to further develop preventative measures and/or targeted therapeutics.



Opportunity Type:

This is a paid research position


Student Role:

This project will involve the characterization of viral profiles in Sjogren's syndrome and healthy patient populations. The student will work closely with 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 by western blot and mass spectroscopy, and computational biology. Student will also be responsible for assisting research team with literature reviews, basic lab maintenance, preparing results for publication and archiving of data. Weekly group meetings will be held to discuss ongoing projects in lab and to present student's progress. One-on-one meetings weekly to discuss results and direction of work with principle investigator.


Student Benefits:

The primary goal of this summer research experience is to offer students the opportunity to gain laboratory experience and 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 diseases. 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 25, 2022, and ends August 4, 2022


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 2022 semester (beginning or continuing college career in Fall 2022 and not graduating before December 2022; 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. U Dreamers with DACA will be hired and paid through U payroll. U Dreamers without DACA who graduated from a Utah high school will be compensated via a different mechanism. If you are a Dreamer from a different institution: If you have DACA, you are eligible to participate and will be hired and paid though U payroll. If you do not have DACA, you are able to participate and gain research experience, but we do not currently have a mechanism that allows us to compensate you. 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 the University of Utah, 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 25-August 4, 2022). 4) at least 18 years old by May 23, 2022 (required if you wish to use on-campus housing; preferred if you will not be using on-campus housing).