Aysheh Alrfooh

Aysheh Alrfooh, Ph.D. student, Clinical Pharmaceutical Sciences

Seeks DNA origins of disease

“Aysheh combines wet-lab and computational techniques to study the epigenetics of psychiatric disorders. This work is extremely important as we try to decipher the biological basis of these disorders in order to develop novel therapeutic targets.” – Marie Gaine, Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics

Hometown:  Tafila, Jordan
Faculty mentor/advisor:  Professor Marie Gaine
What is your degree program and expected graduate date? The Clinical Pharmaceutical Sciences (CPS) PhD degree program, expected graduate date: Summer 2022
Please describe your research: DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification found throughout the genome associated with  environmental and/or genetic factors, and it can have an impact on the development of many human diseases.  My research focuses on determining the DNA methylation profile of individuals with psychiatric disorders utilizing a variety of techniques and instruments (DNA isolation and purification, RTPCR, and DNA sequencing, to name a few). My research attempts to discover how alterations in DNA methylation are linked to specific disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and suicidal behavior.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? Studying DNA methylation in the context of psychiatric diseases (bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and suicidal behavior) help us to understand the underlying biological mechanisms of these diseases, which enable us to develop better accessible diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for these diseases.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? After completing three lab rotations in the fall of 2017, I began working on my research topic in the spring semester of my first-year of Ph.D. study. I have been studying DNA methylation changes in different mental health disorders including cocaine addiction, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? My research training has allowed me to engage in a variety of collaborative projects that take a comprehensive approach to studying complicated diseases, allowing me to strengthen my research skills in developing effective hypotheses and identifying research gaps. In addition, as a Ph.D. student at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics (PSET), I learned about several aspects of drug discovery and development as PSET has two divisions that cover a wide range of research areas, including drug metabolism and carcinogenesis, chemical toxicology, neurochemistry, physical pharmacy, dosage form development, and industrial/manufacturing pharmacy.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? My next step will be to pursue a research position in the pharmaceutical industry so I can implement the learning from my current research to advance the clinical application of epigenetics in drug discovery and development. My long-term goal is founding my own company that will develop epigenetic-based biomarkers and drug targets for complex diseases.
Does your research have connections to or implications for COVID-19? My research contributes to a better knowledge of DNA methylation and its role in regulating the genetic contribution of emerging disorders, and this could be a future avenue of research to investigate coronavirus and its long-term impact on human health.

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