Brennan Mahoney

Brennan Mahoney


“As a child I always seemed to have an interest in animals,” says Brennan Mahoney, HBS’20, “and  originally  I wanted  to  be  a   veterinarian!”     Fate, however, would intervene for this Sandy, Utah native.

When he was ten years old Mahoney’s father had a massive heart attack in the left anterior descending artery (LAD), what’s colloquially called the “widow-maker” because when it is blocked it often results in the patient’s death. His father survived thanks to the “herculean efforts,” of the medical team.

“The work of the doctors and how they treated my family throughout the period of his recovery,” he says, “… turned my interests in biology towards its applications in the field of medicine.” Mahoney’s father would eventually receive a heart transplant nearly two years to the date of the attack, and Mahoney would later enroll in pre-med at the University of Utah where, when he’s not studying, he enjoys playing the guitar and piano, cooking, hiking, (“This is Utah, of course,” he says) … and following Ute football.

The summer after his freshman year, Mahoney worked toward his certification as a nursing assistant (CNA) so that he could start gaining clinical experience. “I worked as a home health aide in many different contexts,” he explains, “but mostly dealt with people who had neurological disorders or injuries.” It was during this time that he met a client who, prior to his injury, had worked as a researcher, and the experience pushed Mahoney to look for opportunities in a neuroscience lab. At the same time, Mahoney also worked as a tutor at West High School in Salt Lake City.

Enter Sophie Caron, professor in the School of Biological Sciences who at the time held the endowed Mario Capecchi Chair, named after Utah’s Nobel laureate who holds joint appointments in SBS and Human Genetics at the U. Caron’s lab studies multisensory integration (MI), a process by which brains integrate sensory information into a comprehensive picture of their environment.

The Caron lab, 2020

“For the study of this,” reports Mahoney who graduated with honors last summer but continues working in the Caron lab as a technician, we “used a brain area known as the mushroom body of [the fruit fly] D. melanogaster as a model.” The Caron team characterized the connection of neurons from multiple sensory modalities using a technique known as GFP reconstitution across synaptic partners or GRASP for short. “With knowledge of the patterns underlining MI, this logic could be applied to more complex brains,” says Mahoney, including, potentially, the human brain.

The research culminated in a first publication for Mahoney and his undergraduate colleague Miles Jacob, also credited as a co-author. The article, which made the cover of the journal Cell Reports highlights fundamental differences in the way associate brain centers, notably the mushroom body, integrate sensory information and converge in higher order brain centers. The findings are built  on previous work from the Caron lab that described a pathway conveying visual information from the medulla to the ventral accessary calyx of the mushroom body. “[O]ur study,” reads the article abstract, “defines a second, parallel pathway that is anatomically poised to convey information from the visual system to the dorsal accessary calyx.”

It is these kinds of scientific findings that inspire a young researcher like Brennan Mahoney to keep going. His ambition, in fact, is to apply to an MD/PhD program where he can continue in research that can help health professionals practice the good work that he witnessed first-hand when his father was singularly under their care.

"The efforts of my father's medical team allowed him to live so that he could continue to raise me and my two brothers and continue to live a happy and full life to this day. I hope to be able to help people in that same capacity, be it through direct patient care or through the findings of my future research."

The School of Biological Sciences regularly grants the Research Scholar Award to deserving undergraduate researchers like Brennan Mahoney. You can support these scholarships through a donation here.

by David Pace

COVID-19 Vaccine Panel

Understanding the Science


U of U panel of experts will answer COVID-19 vaccine questions at free event.

Depending who you ask, the COVID-19 vaccine could be the miraculous answer to worldwide prayers. Others may think it's an ill-tested, reckless way to control increasingly desperate people. Suffice to say, there's no shortage of opinions on whether the vaccine is safe, effective or even ethical—all while the list of myths surrounding it continues to grow.

Fortunately, University of Utah's College of Science is clearing up much of the confusion surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines in its quarterly virtual lecture series, "Understanding the Science". This quarter's installment, currently scheduled for Feb. 17, tackles one of the hottest topics not only in the community but in the entire world: COVID-19 vaccines.

Moderated by Tom Thatcher of Intuitive Funding, which is sponsoring the event, this free, virtual panel includes experts from both the University of Utah campus and across the state, including Dr. Fred Adler of the university's Department of Mathematics, Jennifer Dailey-Provost, Utah State Representative, and Dr. Ryan Looper of the University of Utah's Department of Chemistry.

Together, panelists will address the science behind the COVID-19 vaccine, information on community spread, policy insight on vaccine rollout schedules and how the vaccine will impact the economy and the future—right here in Utah and around the world.

Additionally, attendees will have the opportunity to pose questions regarding the vaccine when they register for the event, which may be discussed during the webinar. So, whether you're worried about any of the myths circulating around the vaccine—like the claim that it impacts fertility or that its speedy development undermines its safety and effectiveness—you can pose these topics for discussion by the panel.

Discussing the COVID-19 vaccine is a natural topic for the Understanding the Science lecture series, which brings scientific experts, government leaders and community advocates together to discuss major issues facing Utahans today. And since the Utah Health Department reports more than 337,000 Utahans have contracted COVID-19 so far—with more than 1,600 dying from the disease and an entire state living under regulations to slow the spread—this is one issue affecting every Utah resident.

"Understanding the Science: COVID-19 Vaccine" will be held virtually Wednesday, Feb. 17 from 7-9 p.m. If you plan to attend, please register. While the College of Science's Lecture Series has historically been an in-person event, COVID-19's social distancing practices have necessitated the shift to virtual webinars.

That said, with a vaccine now available to at-risk populations and wider availability on the horizon, the University of Utah College of Science hopes to return to in-person events later in 2021.

COVID-19 has dramatically shifted Utahan's way of life. With vaccines becoming available for more and more Utahans, it's important to understand its risks, the myths surrounding them and the possible impact on the future. Find out more about the free webinar, register and submit your questions for discussion at the University of Utah.

>> REGISTER <<


Originally published @ KSL.com

Lee Roberts

 

LEE K. ROberts

Last year the College of Science celebrated its 50-year anniversary. When the College was formed, in 1970, Lee K. Roberts, BS’72, had nearly completed his bachelor’s degree in Biology.

“My undergraduate training at the U gave me a strong background in science in general and biology in particular. It helped motivate me to pursue an advanced degree,” says Roberts.

“Dr. Stephen Durrant taught two evolution courses that really excited me,” says Roberts. “First, was a course on comparative anatomy. The course was part lecture but mostly dissection of representative animal classes from worms to mammals. The second class was the evolution of man; which, in addition to examining various hominid skulls and bones, was my first exposure to reading research papers to supplement the textbook. My first look at how science is done.”

Roberts remembers many of his biology professors, including Fred Evans, Gordon Lark, James Lords, and current emeritus professor Robert Vickery. The early 1970s was an exciting time in the biology department. Gordon Lark was the chairman, and he was building a world-class faculty at the U.

“I took a protozoology course from Dr. Fred Evans. As an extra credit option, I did a little research project to characterize a protozoan he’d found in the crook of a tree. It was my first experience in conducting experiments to solve a problem,” recalls Roberts.

As an undergraduate, Roberts worked part-time at the Radiobiology Lab in the University's School of Medicine. After graduating in 1972 with his biology degree, he joined the Radiobiology Lab as a full-time technician performing clinical chemistry analyses and assisting the lab’s veterinarians with surgeries and autopsies.

“In 1975 I started graduate school in the Department of Anatomy, University of Utah School of Medicine, working toward a Ph.D. degree. Early in my graduate training I attended a seminar on tumor immunology, and I was hooked by the mystery of the immune system,” says Roberts.

Roberts was able to complete his doctorate degree in 1980 in anatomy and published a dissertation on how the cellular immune response influences the emergence and growth of skin cancers.

For the next two years Roberts worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the Immunobiology Laboratory at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, in Albuquerque. He focused on gaining technical expertise in flow cytometry, monoclonal antibody techniques, and T-cell cloning.

“In 1982 I returned to the University of Utah School of Medicine as a faculty member in the Department of Dermatology,” says Roberts. “I also became the Director of the Flow Cytometry and Monoclonal Antibody Core Facility of the Utah Regional Cancer Center.” His research group was focused on immunobiology of the skin, immunological mechanisms associated with photo carcinogenesis, and characterization of cloned regulatory T-cells involved in the immune response to skin cancer.

In 1989, Dr. Roberts exited his academic appointment at the U to pursue a 30-year career in pharmaceutical and biotechnology R&D and management.  “I was lucky to work on several cutting-edge vaccine and immunotherapy technologies.”  He is currently retired in Memphis, TN; but continues with some biotech consulting.

“My best advice for students is to pursue your passion, no matter what barriers you face. Be tenacious in what you want to accomplish and you’ll find a way to get there,” says Roberts. “Find a good mentor. Better yet, find a group of mentors!”

Lee and his wife Dawn are dedicated Utah fans. “We try to get to at least one Utah football game during the season, as well as their end of season bowl game,” he says. “When I get back to Salt Lake I always include a visit to the campus. I love the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the campus and the academic research environment.

“Living in Memphis limits our access to live Utah sports, so we purchased the PAC-12 channel so we can watch all the Utah football and basketball games during the season. And of course I own a full collection of Utah-branded shirts, pants, sweatshirts and jackets!”

When asked about the Covid-19 pandemic, Roberts had the following to say:

Snowbird, UT, with wife Dawn (B.S., Education '71) and grandsons Dillon and Judah.

“I’ve been very interested in following the scientific and medical research into the description of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and Covid-19 disease. Reminds me of when I was a postdoc in 1981 and the early days of the discovery of HIV and AIDS. The exception being that contemporary gene sequencing technology has greatly accelerated the identification of SARS-CoV-2 and characterization of the spike protein antigen.

“Given my vaccine research and development background I’ve also followed with great interest the development, clinical testing and regulatory approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA based anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines.”

“I’m heartened that science worked! In real time it demonstrated the global effort of public health officials and scientists working through the scientific process to understand and discover effective clinical responses to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Conversely, I’m disappointed by the general public and political pushback against scientific facts, scientists and public health initiatives to address the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope that in the future we, the community of scientists, are able to improve the public and political trust in the scientific process, scientific facts and the scientific enterprise.”

 

In 1985 a scholarship was established in the School of Biological Sciences in honor of Stephen D. Durrant, referenced above, to support students studying mammalogy. You can find a listing of established endowments and scholarships that alumni regularly donate to here

 
by James DeGooyer
 

Nancy Parry

Nancy parry

When Dr. Nancy Parry, BS’63, was eight years old, she talked her mother into taking her to a fortune teller in Ogden. On the way there her mother asked her what she wanted to do for a career. “I want to be a doctor,” she replied with some embarrassment, believing her mother would find the notion preposterous.

“Well. That’s nice,” said her mother.

The tarot card reader who was wearing the garb of a gypsy dealt her four cards while Nancy’s mother took notes. “Oh, you’re going to be a doctor,” the card reader announced. Her mother was floored.

Eventually, Parry, who grew up in Salt Lake City, attended the University of  Utah for her bachelor’s where she recalls in particular the late anatomy professor John Legler as having a formative influence on her. But with the tarot reader’s other-worldly endorsement, thought Parry, “I didn’t study real hard. I mean, I was going to be doctor,” as if it were a done deal.

Confident in the outcome, and further inspired by a boy she was dating who also wanted a medical career, Parry eventually applied to medical school on the east coast. She was declined. “So I jumped into the car and went back to the fortune teller. ‘You told me I was going to be a doctor, and I didn’t get into medical school,’” Parry exclaimed. The fortune teller dealt the four cards again. “You applied to the wrong coast,” she said.

Parry was soon selected as an alternative candidate at the University of California, Irvine and was given two days to get to the west coast. “I went to the anatomy class and it was hot and this guy fainted from the heat and the strong formaldehyde odor, so when he dropped out of med school, I replaced him.”

She was “in.”

In the 1960s, female medical students were a rarity. It was a stigma that Parry had to fight for the rest of her life, even during her training. “I was going with this guy during medical school,” she remembers, “and he said to me one time--made a fatal mistake--he said when we get done with our training we’ll open up a practice and you can assist me. That was the end of that relationship.”

With her signature determination, Parry set up a solo medical practice with her sister, Janet Parry, R.N. (BS'66), and located in Anaheim where she was a general practitioner for thirty years. Parry looked young at the time because, at 28 years old, she was. At work in a 24-bed hospital she remembers arriving during visiting hours. A nurse tried to stop her, telling her visiting hours were over.  “I’m the doctor” Parry told her and proceeded, only to hear behind her back, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

It was a different time in more ways than the fact that women were rarely doctors. During a visit with a patient regularly brought to the office by her son, Parry determined that the woman was unfortunately going to require a hysterectomy. “So I brought in her son.” says Parry.

“Your mother has cancer of the cervix,” she explained.

“Wait a minute,” said the man.

“Don’t worry she’ll be fine…”

“No, wait a minute,” he said again. “I’m not her son, I’m her taxi driver!”

Needless to say, it was the era before HIPPA laws.

Eventually, the two sisters would form Parry Development Company with Nancy's lifelong friend, also a U alumna, Susan Flandro, (BS'63 & JD'68). Together they built a three-story medical office building and then a six-story building with offices for 70 physicians. The company also built a five-operating-room outpatient surgery center in Anaheim.  At one point Nancy had to put her home  up for collateral for the bank loan.

Following their stint in Southern California, the two sisters set up shop in Ketchum, the ski town adjacent to Sun Valley, Idaho, where they opened a small medical office.  Before that, however, Parry needed to advance her provisional ER privileges at the hospital to active status, and commuted to Salmon for months to get her hours logged.

Parry eventually expanded her interests to hyperbarics, a type of treatment that employs a pressurized HBOT chamber used to help wounded warriors with TBI and PTSD and to speed up healing of tissues starved for oxygen. She also trained on a BEMER P.EM.F. device that increases oxygen and nutrient delivery at the cellular level be 30% and potentially decreases the body's inflammation by the same percentage.

In research she has worked on telomeres, the repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome. Activation of telomeres lengthens the shortened chromosome ends for the prevention and repair of the neurodegenerative changes of aging. Additionally, she has addressed topics to the medical sector on the P53 gene and its relationship to bio-identical progesterone. Up-regulating the p53 turns out to be a tumor suppressor gene that in humans is encoded by another gene that may protect patients from breast, uterine, cervix, ovary, prostate and colon cancers.

Through the ups and downs of breaking the “glass ceiling”—which was more of a recurring rather than singular event—Parry developed Parkinson’s and in 2020 she retired from her medical career of 50+ years. Passing the baton, this doctor who helped pioneer women in medicine arranged to have another female physician take over her practice, hard-won, and well-earned.

The pandemic has given Parry more time to read. She also continues advising her friends and fellow doctors and researchers remotely by phone. Her advice to students today is simple: “Don’t give up!”

At her retirement party in August, she had the audience in stitches, regaling them with hilarious stories about her time in the medical field.

Nancy Parry’s acerbic humor and willingness to laugh at herself have endeared her to friends and rivals, whether it’s about fortune tellers or that time she donated a vasectomy procedure to the fireman’s ball auction, only to have to make good on it months later.

“We raised $750 for a good cause,” she says with a smile.

 

The Legler Endowed Lectureship in Human Anatomy, currently held by Mark Nielsen, supports the full cadaver lab for pre-med students at the School of Biological Sciences. 

You can support the legacy of Legler and Nielsen through a donation to the endowment here.

 
by David Pace