Ti-Ara Turner, PhD student, immunology
Influences disease through gut health
“Ti-Ara passionately engages in outreach programs, mentoring fellow students within and beyond the program, showcasing her unwavering dedication to STEM. Her enthusiasm uplifts those around her, inspiring everyone to reach their full potential. Fearlessly embracing new and challenging roles, she exemplifies a commitment to personal and collective growth.” -Ashutosh Mangalam, associate professor of pathology
Hometown: Montgomery, Alabama
Faculty mentor/advisor: Ashutosh Mangalam, PhD, associate professor of pathology, Carver College of Medicine
What is your degree program and anticipated graduation date? Immunology Graduate Program 2026
Please describe your research: My research broadly aims to understand how an isoflavone (plant-based) diet can reduce symptoms of MS through interactions between the gut microbiota and immune system. Previously, the Mangalam lab has shown that an isoflavone diet can reduce symptoms of MS in the lab, but the mechanisms behind these effects are unknown. I am working to identify the immune cells necessary for the protection we see in hopes to provide new avenues for research.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which immune cells attack the brains and spinal cords of humans. There are currently no therapies that can cure MS, so it is important that research focuses on factors that can influence disease development or progression. One factor that supports a variety of normal functions in the human body and may have the ability to influence disease is the trillions of microbes that colonize the human gut (the gut microbiota). If we can better understand the role of the gut microbiota in human health, we may be able to identify new avenues for therapies in autoimmune diseases, like MS.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? I began participating in research immediately after starting at the University of Iowa!
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? Since joining my lab at the University of Iowa, I have vocalized my interests in promoting healthier dietary patterns in the US and generating animal models that better predict human therapeutics. From my thesis work I have gained experience in various techniques, collaborated with cutting-edge scientists, and connected with pioneers in the field of immunology.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? After completing my work in Iowa, I plan to create opportunities in research and science-education for all underrepresented groups. After my defense, I plan to obtain a post-doctoral position to refine my research training. Then, I hope to obtain a position in academia to continue researching, teach college courses, and train students in lab. My goal is to spread the importance of science so that all people understand its importance and have equal opportunities/access to intellectual advancement.
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