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NIH Funded R25AI170381 - BridgeUp HBCU

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Applications are open December 1, 2023 through March 19, 2024

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BRIDGE UP HBCU provides an opportunity for students from Historically Black Colleges/Universities to begin or advance their research experience/career.

Summary of program
The Biomedical Research Inclusion & Diversity to Grow Excellence in science Undergraduate program in Pathology for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (BRIDGE UP–HBCU) program at the University of Utah is motivated by the need to recruit, and importantly retain, more trainees from an HBCU to the translational research enterprise. The program is designed to address three key needs of students from an HBCU in the transition from undergraduate to graduate education: acquiring deeper research experience, developing their ‘scientific identity’ and skills for success in the lab and academic settings, and building supportive long-term professional networks. In addition to preparing these students from HBCU'to enter PhD and MD/PhD programs, this program will also promote their retention beyond graduate education, through growth into mentors and role-models to produce alumni who are empowered to overcome toxic training environments and fill the gaps of representation in faculty and leadership positions across clinical and translational disciplines.


The aims for this program include 1. Build a career-long mentoring network, 2. Provide rigorous mentored research training as a foundation for pursuing graduate training, and 3.  Prepare students for admission to doctoral programs by providing long-term access to scientific skills development.

The BRIDGE UP HBCU Program lasts 10 weeks beginning in late May and ending in early August. During the duration of the program, students will be paired with faculty mentor and work in their labs. This will allow students to get first hand research experience working in a lab. Additionally, students will work on their own summer research project with the guidance of their mentor and will present during the poster symposium at the end of the program. Students will have the opportunity to participate in clinical shadowing where students will get to shadow a provider(s) in areas that the student is interested throughout the University of Utah. Students will also have the opportunity to visit areas of Utah including Moab, Park City, and the Hogle Zoo.

Primary Objectives

Provide opportunities for HBCU students in research activities
Ensure students are trained mentored and equipped for Medical and/or Research careers
Increase the number of HBCU students in MD and MD/PhD programs as well as Pathology and Clinical and Translation Sciences.


The BRIDGE UP HBCU program is funded through grants from the National Institutes of Health (R25AI170381) and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (R25TR004388) at the University of Utah. These grants fund program activities, provides stipends for students, travel and lodging for students, and program related supplies

Program Director

Dr. Keke Fairfax

Dr. Keke Fairfax is an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Director of Research and Education Excellence and Success at the University of Utah. Her research areas include B Cells, Macrophages, Schistosomiasis, Maternal Infection, and Pathogenesis. Dr. Fairfax has been leading the BRIDGE UP HBCU program as the Program Director since summer 2021.

Contact Us


Program Activities

Orientation/Welcome Breakfast
After students arrive, they will join their mentors and near peer mentors for a welcome breakfast and orientation. Students will introduce themselves and be introduced to their mentor/near peer mentor as well as learning a little bit more about the program. After introductions, students will be escorted to the card office where they will receive their university badge that will allow them to access relevant buildings and public transportation.

Trip to Moab, Utah
Students will take a 3-day trip to explore southern Utah area of Moab. While on this trip students will go on several hikes and river rafts. To participate in river rafting, students will be required to complete a waiver. This waiver will be sent via email and will need to be signed and returned prior to the trip.


Visit to Red Butte Gardens
Students will be given a tour of the University’s Red Butte Garden. Red Butte consists of a botanical garden, arboretum, and amphitheater. It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the Intermountain West and is the state arboretum of Utah.

Visit to Park City, Utah
Students will visit Park City, Utah which is the location of the Sundance Film Festival, resorts, ski lodges, as well as Utah Olympic Park. Students will have an opportunity to tour Park City with the Program Director and mentors.

Wrap Up Picnic
Towards the end of the program, students, mentors, and near peer mentors will gather together to celebrate the end of the program.

Visit to Hogle Zoo
Students, program staff, and mentors will have the opportunity to attend the Hogle Zoo. The Hogle Zoo is located in Salt Lake City and houses animals from diverse ecosystems.

Poster Symposium
During the duration of the program, students will be working on their own research project with their mentor and near peer mentor. This will involve running analyses on data that has been collected by the assigned lab. At the end of the program, students will present their poster at the Poster Symposium. Posters must be completed and submitted for printing no later than 4 business days prior to symposium to ensure that the poster is printed on time.

Journal Club
The journal club is designed to help students understand and discuss academic literature. Students will have the opportunity to be led in a discussion of academic journal articles by a rotation of University of Utah faculty members.

Writing Club
The Writing Club is designed to help students improve their academic and professional writing skills. This group is held once a week with Dr. Fairfax so that students may gain necessary tools and skills in writing.

Clinical Shadowing
Students will have an opportunity to shadow a faculty member/provider at the University of Utah in an area they are interested. By providing this experience, students will be able to hone their interests to determine which field they wish to pursue.

Post Program Evaluation Survey
At the end of the program, students will be sent a survey to provide their feedback around the BRIDGE UP HBCU program at the University of Utah. This feedback allows Dr. Fairfax to gauge what is going well is the program and necessary improvements. This feedback is vital as it help the program to improve the benefits and positive impacts of participating students.

Mentors for Summer Season 2024

Scott Summers, PhD

Co-Director, Diabetes & Metabolism Research Center, Department Chair, Nutrition & Integrative Physiology, Professor, Nutrition & Integrative Physiology, Distinguished Professor, Nutrition & Integrative Physiology

Ceramides are products of fat and protein metabolism that accumulate in individuals prone to metabolic disorders. Once ceramide levels rise above a critical threshold, tissues become unresponsive to insulin, the hormone that facilitates nutrient storage. The Summers Laboratory found that implementing pharmacological or genetic engineering strategies to block ceramide accumulation in rodents improves insulin sensitivity and prevents the onset of diabetes and fatty liver disease. Building upon these discoveries, they now seek to understand the regulatory mechanisms governing ceramide synthesis or action and to identify new therapeutic strategies for reducing ceramides to treat these pathologies.


Katsu Funai, PhD

Associate Professor of Department of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology

The Funai lab is interested in how lipid molecules adversely affect cellular bioenergetics with obesity and inactivity. We use cell culture and genetically modified mouse models to understand the mechanism by which lipids alter cellular and systemic metabolism to alter the propensity for metabolic disease. Dr. Funai and the student will discuss their interest in deciding on the appropriate project from a wide variety of topics in multiple organ systems. The student will be paired up with one of the senior graduate students to work on these projects.


Karen Wilcox, PhD Distinguished Professor & Chair

Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology; Director: Contract Site of the NINDS Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology Department of Biomedical Engineering

The Wilcox laboratory is interested in understanding basic mechanisms underlying the development of epilepsy, seizure generation, and therapy resistance to anticonvulsant drugs. To achieve these goals, we use electrophysiological, calcium imaging, pharmacological, behavioral, genetic, immunoblot, and immunohistochemical techniques in a variety of in vitro preparations and animal models of epilepsy. Our working hypothesis is that insight into disease-induced changes in neuronal and glial function will provide new avenues for therapeutic interventions in patients at risk for developing epilepsy or those patients who are refractory to current treatment options. To that end, I am the Principal Investigator of the Anticonvulsant Drug Development (ADD) Program and direct studies determining the anti-seizure potential of proprietary investigational compounds through a contract with NINDS at the National Institutes of Health.

Keke Fairfax, PhD

Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

Th IL-4 and immuno-modulation are hallmarks of parasitic infections, my laboratory broadly focuses on using the helminth parasite Schistosoma mansoni as a tool to understand both, the consequences of IL-4 induced immuno-modulation, and the complex interplay between B, T and stromal cells necessary to develop an optimal T and B cell memory response Under this umbrella we currently have three main projects: 1) Understanding the immunological implications of maternal schistosomiasis; 2) Dissecting the role of IL-4 in shaping the cellular environment of peripheral lymph nodes during homeostasis and antigenic challenge; 3) Delineating the mechanistic role of hepatic macrophages in helminth-induced protection from metabolic diseases. The summer project will focus on the role of IL-4 signaling in schistosome egg antigen driven reprogramming of hematopoietic progenitors.


Rebecca Delaney, PhD

Our research focuses on developing interventions that promote patient and caregiver engagement in medical care and decisions related to chronic disease management. She creates interventions—designed for and by patients—to improve clinical care and the health of patients with chronic health conditions. Her recent studies focus on improving self-advocacy and self-management skills among adolescents and young adults with congenital heart disease to facilitate pediatric-to-adult healthcare transitions. She uses patient-centered methods, such as focus groups and interviews, to inform the design and development of interactive tools. The tools can range from pamphlets to interactive apps to support patients. Through this research, she hopes to improve clinical care and the long-term health of people with chronic diseases.


Katharine Walter, PhD

Assistant Professor of the Division of Epidemiology

Pathogen evolution creates an extraordinary epidemiological record and staggering public health challenges. Our group develops and applies evolutionary approaches to answer open questions about pathogen transmission and epidemiological dynamics. We focus on tuberculosis and pathogens linked to the rapidly changing climate in the American West with a goal of directly informing public health in low-income settings. Locating tuberculosis (TB) transmission. TB kills more people than any other infectious disease. TB is preventable and curable yet persists in marginalized populations excluded from access to healthcare and other critical social services. It is difficult to identify where the TB bacterium is transmitted and therefore, the best methods to prevent transmission. With researchers in Brazil and Paraguay, we sequence M. tuberculosis genomes to reconstruct transmission chains and identify key locations to focus TB prevention measures. Pathogen emergence linked to climate change in the American West. Climate change has been implicated in the emergence of several fungal pathogens, including Valley fever fungus Coccidioides, a major, environmentally acquired cause of pneumonia in the American West. With Coccidioides genomes, we are reconstructing the emergence history of the fungus in Utah to inform projections of its future spread.


Dean Tantin, PhD

Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

Sequence-specific DNA binding transcription factors are potent controllers of gene expression, as demonstrated by their central role in development and in lineage reprogramming. Transcription factors are used to achieve specific gene expression patterns. Because these patterns are critical for successful development and signal response, aberrations in transcription factor function lead to myriad human disorders such as immune dysfunction and cancer. Our lab is studying mammalian transcription factors, their cofactors and the chromatin marks they control, to identify gene regulatory mechanisms underlying lymphocyte development and function, stem cells, pluripotency and malignancy. The summer project involves assisting a senior postdoc in the lab with a project involving the formation and maintenance of CD4 T cell memory, and the role that metabolism plays in this process. The project makes heavy use of laboratory mice and infection, model pathogens, standard molecular biology tool, and methods for analyzing metabolism. 


Clement Chow, PhD

Associate Professor of Genetics

Our lab is focused on understanding the role of genetic variation on disease outcomes. We employ quantitative and functional tools, in a variety of model organisms, to study how genetic variation impacts basic cellular traits important to human health. Our work in model organisms will help to model and inform studies of genetic variation in the human population. We hope to identify variation that can lead to more precise, personalized therapies, especially for rare disease.


Tommaso Lenzi, PhD

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering

We envision a world where everyone can move and live independently. We envision a world where congenital or acquired body differences, trauma, and injury would not prevent people from pursuing their life goals. We envision a world where advanced bionic technologies will enhance the human body by restoring, preserving, and augmenting human movement ability across the lifespan. To achieve this goal, we focus on the intersection of Robotics, Design, Control, Biomechanics, and Neural Engineering. Our research creates new science and develops new technologies to empower the next generation of wearable bionic devices and systems to help people move and live independently, ultimately ending physical disability


Julio Facelli, PhD

Professor of Biomedical Informatics & Ramkiran Gouripeddi, MBBS, MS Research Group

Facelli’s research interests are centered on the application of advanced computing techniques to solve important problems in the biomedical domain. The projects in his research group use similar computational infrastructure and tools to maximize the synergy among projects, benefiting the students, post-docs and faculty in the group who are exposed to a variety of biomedical problems that are addressed by a common set of computational approaches. The principal research projects currently underway in his group are: Environmental Health Informatics; Big Data Applications to Biomedical Informatics; Protein Structure Prediction to Understand Variant Pathogenicity; Crystal Structure Prediction (CSP) of Pharmaceutical Drugs; Distributed Information Systems for Clinical and Translational Research
Web site:

Hans Haecker, PhD

Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

The major focus of our lab is on innate immunity and inflammation, with projectsranging from molecular mechanisms of signal transduction to translational aspects ofdrug development. We explore how innate immune cells recognize and respond topathogens, how genetic mutations in innate immunity contribute to inflammatory andauto-immune diseases, and how obtained information can be used to develop noveltherapeutic strategies.


Guillaume Hoareau, PhD

Assistant Professor, Emergency Medicine Investigator, Cardiovascular Research and Training

Our primary focus is to develop innovative treatment solutions for diseases linked to ischemia- reperfusion injury, explicitly addressing the complexities of hemorrhagic shock. We are deeply committed to exploring the intricate field of mitochondrial pathobiology, seeking to unravel the mysteries surrounding this crucial cellular component's behavior in the context of ischemia-reperfusion injury. Our overarching goal is to develop therapeutic interventions that safeguard and support mitochondrial function, ultimately contributing to advancing patient care in critical and emergency medical situations. 
Here are links to our lab:

Melissa Reeves, PhD

Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

The Reeves Lab has established a powerful novel system to model tumor heterogeneity in vivo, in which we can establish and modulate heterogeneous tumors made up of multiple, fluorescently-labeled tumor populations. Using the fluorescent labels, we can track each population within the tumor to study how heterogeneity shapes the spatial organization of immune cells and immune activity within a tumor. We are also investigating the impact of neoantigen heterogeneity—which arises from mutation heterogeneity—on the anti-tumor T cell response, and tumor evolution following immunotherapy.


Jared Rutter, PhD

HHMI Investigator, Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry

Our goal is to understand how what we eat (and ultimately what the cells in our body eat) influence how those cells behave.  How does it change whether those cells will grow, divide, change their fate, move, etc.?  The answers to these questions will help us understand the link between nutrition/metabolism and several different human diseases.  We try to tackle such questions using a wide array of approaches, including genetics, biochemistry, cell biology and animal models.  There are several specific projects that are appropriate for a summer undergraduate depending on their interests. 

Website: Rutter Laboratory

Wan-Lin Lo, PhD

Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

The Lo Lab deciphers how T cell fate is sealed by an efficient and reliable signal propagation network that begins when a T cell receptor encounters a ligand and discriminates between foreign and self-antigens. We investigate how T cells respond to environmental stimuli to shape their differentiation and stemness, calibrate their sensitivity to activation signals, and establish the extent and specificity of their responses.


Keren Hilgendorf, PhD

Assistant Professor Biochemistry

My lab is focused on understanding how obesity-induced changes to white adipose tissue lead to comorbidities such as cancer and diabetes. Adipose tissue has an incredible capacity to expand in response to excess nutrients through the coordinated enlargement of existing adipocytes as well as the generation of additional adipocytes. Adipose tissue becomes dysfunctional when excess calories exceed the capacity of adipocyte stem cells to generate enough new adipocytes, leading to metabolic disease. We want to understand how excess nutrients activate adipocyte stem cells, and why this process becomes impaired in some people.
Website: Hilgendorf Laboratory

Alistair Thorpe Phd

Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Thorpe seeks to understand better how people behave and make important health-related decisions. I then use these findings to develop and test interventions (e.g., decision supports,educational tools, and communication strategies) to help people make healthier and more informed decisions. Current research topics include: Developing health communications and educational support for reducing antibiotic overuse, understanding public behavior and testing health communications during global health crises, developing psychological and decision support for high-risk populations, and improving understanding and communication of predicted risks and randomized controlled trial evidence.


Lindsay Keegan, PhD

Co-Director of the Center forEcology, Evolution, and Epidemiologyof Infectious Diseases Assistant Professor (Research) Division of Epidemiology

Lindsay's research answers the question of how transmission dynamics of infectious diseases impact control and elimination efforts. Her research centers on developing and applying novel statistical and dynamical methods to address questions on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases. Currently she is working on using statistical and mathematical techniques to understand the how pathogens spread in healthcare facilities. In addition, she is working on using dynamical methods to respond to COVID-19.


Matthew Williams, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Pathology Division of Microbiology and Immunology

Our lab focuses on mechanisms controlling the differentiation and activity of T cells responding to infectious pathogens and tumors. Visiting students will participate in projects aimed at monitoring T cell responses following infection with influenza virus in mice and evaluating therapies to enhance T cell activity in mouse models of melanoma.
Website: Williams Laboratory

Eric Snyder, MD, PhD

Investigator, Huntsman Cancer Institute

The Snyder Lab's overall goal is to determine how the loss of cellular identity and acquisition of alternative differentiation states contributes to cancer progression and alters therapeutic response. Ongoing projects are focused on two major themes:
A.    Regulation of lineage plasticity in lung and pancreatic cancer.
B.    Feedback loops between cell identity programs and oncogenic signaling pathways that dictate response to targeted therapy.


Steven Baker, PhD

Professor of Pathology

We have two major areas of investigation. The first is understanding lifespan evolution between species. The lifespans of organisms show tremendous variance, even among vertebrates. The pigmy goby, Eviota sigillata, has a maximum lifespan of 60 days, whereas the Greenland shark, Somniosus microcephalus, has been estimated to live up to 4 centuries. In animals housed under optimal conditions, with unlimited access to food, shelter from the elements, protection from predation, and access to veterinary care, the degree of variation in lifespan between species far outweighs the degree of variation within species. Given that environmental differences are minimized under these circumstances, this suggests that the major determinants of lifespan variation between species are genetic. Yet, the underlying genes and pathways that control lifespan between species are poorly understood. We are developing computational and biochemical tools to uncover the mechanisms resulting in the vast differences in lifespan observed in nature. Our second major area of research involves work on Cerebral Creatine Deficiency Syndromes (CCDSs). Defects in creatine metabolism result in a devastating neurological syndrome affecting pediatric patients. Unfortunately, the predominant form of CCDS (type I or Creatine Transporter Deficiency, CTD) currently has no effective treatment options. We are currently using a combination of single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), scATAC-seq, and high-resolution microscopy to develop treatment strategies for this and related disorders.


Brian Evavold, PhD & Tracey Lamb, PhD

Professor of Microbiology and Immunology & Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology

The Evavold and Lamb labs focus on how T cells control all aspects of immunity. We have a vibrant lab of summer students, undergrads, graduate students, postdocs and research faculty working on a variety of cutting edge projects using human T cells and animal models to investigate the effect of T cells in cerebral malaria, autoimmune disease (type 1 diabetes and demyelinating disease), pathogenesis of coinfection, and cancer. 


Gita Suneja, MD, MS

Associate Professor Radiation Oncology

The Suneja Lab is a vibrant group of learners, research staff, and faculty from the University of Utah and Huntsman Cancer Institute that has forged local, national, and international collaborations in health equity, HIV malignancy, and global oncology research. The primary goal of the lab is to ensure the highest quality cancer care is accessible and equitably delivered to all patients. Current areas of focus include: disparities in cancer treatment and outcomes in people with HIV, radiation oncology workforce diversity, short course gynecologic radiotherapy, impact of COVID on cancer treatment in vulnerable populations, and HIV-mediated differences in tumor microenvironments. The Suneja Lab uses a variety of advanced health services research methodologies to explore opportunities to enhance cancer care and outcomes for marginalized populations.

Research from the lab has been published in high impact journals, such as the Journal of Clinical Oncology and JAMA Oncology, and garnered attention from the national media, including National Public Radio and Newsweek Magazine. The lab has been awarded funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the 5 For the Fight Program, the Geographical Management of Cancer Health Disparities Program, and intramural programs of Huntsman Cancer Institute, Duke University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Daniel Leung, MD, MSc

Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases

Our research group uses immunologic, epidemiologic, genomic, and data science approaches to answer questions in the following areas: 1) Microbiome changes during intestinal infection and treatment; 2) Mucosal Associated Invariant T (MAIT) cell responses in mucosal infections and cancer; 3) Respiratory immune dysregulation following intestinal infections; 4) Clinical prediction and biomarkers of pediatric diarrhea; 5) Immune responses and sero-epidemiology of cholera.
Twitter: @GlobalGutHealth 

Jacob George, PhD

Neurorobotics Lab Director

Our group is focused on understanding the biochemical, cellular, and organismal changes in metabolism
that enable disease. To do this, we integrate modern techniques in mammalian genetics and mass
spectrometry to study metabolic transformations in molecular detail. Specifically, our has two projects in
cancer metabolism. The first studies the role lipids play in fueling tumor growth and how obesity and
metabolic syndrome may drive tumor development. The second study focuses on amino acids of the
urea cycle in cancer growth and progression. We study how the metabolism of arginine, citrulline, and
ornithine drive tumor growth and development and how to modulate this with diet and inhibitors.
Current lab projects focus on both in vitro and in vivo studies to develop a complete understanding of
both cellular and physiological mechanisms at play.


Greg Ducker, PhD

Assistant Professor of the Department of Biochemistry

Our group is focused on understanding the biochemical, cellular, and organismal changes in metabolism that enable disease. To do this, we integrate modern techniques in mammalian genetics and mass spectrometry to study metabolic transformations in molecular detail. Specifically, our has two projects in cancer metabolism. The first studies the role lipids play in fueling tumor growth and how obesity and
metabolic syndrome may drive tumor development. The second study focuses on amino acids of the urea cycle in cancer growth and progression. We study how the metabolism of arginine, citrulline, and ornithine drive tumor growth and development and how to modulate this with diet and inhibitors. Current lab projects focus on both in vitro and in vivo studies to develop a complete understanding of
both cellular and physiological mechanisms at play.