Arie Sitthichai Mobley, BS’00

When Arie Sitthichai Mobley (BS'2000) began teaching at a small liberal arts university in a department for undergraduate neuroscience, she says there were many books on stem cells, but they were either too broadly or narrowly focused, or too advanced for an undergraduate course. The lack of an appropriate textbook motivated her to write her own aimed at undergraduate neuroscience students. Her experiences in the lab and classroom coalesced in a clear vision of what undergraduates needed to learn about stem cells and neurogenesis as well as the level of information required. The book is designed to help students appreciate the potential, and understand the limitations of stem cells, while providing a basic knowledge of stem cell physiology.

Science Direct, in a review of the book, reported that "this early graduate level reference describes [neural stem cells'] physiology and potential for medicine and provides students with fundamental stem cell information. An overview of stem cell sources in the human body and a brief mention of relevant diseases provide context for the value of this knowledge."

Mobley earned her diploma from South Sevier High School in Monroe, Utah in 1991 and, after graduating with a bachelor's from the School of Biological Sciences, continued at the University of Utah, earning a PhD in neuroscience. Her dissertation was on olfactory sensory neurons of the squid, Lolligungula brevis. (The squid were shipped to her in large bags of water from Galveston, Texas.) Following her graduate work at the U, Mobley did her post doctorate at Yale University where she first developed an interest in adult neurogenesis in disease states. From there she became an assistant professor at Western New England University (WNEU) in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Text book authored by Bio Alumna Arie S. MobleyAfter teaching for four years, she moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, where she is currently associate study director at the independent, nonprofit biomedical research The Jackson Laboratory. The Lab is dedicated to contributing to a future of better health care based on the unique genetic makeup of each individual. Mobley's work is focused on understanding and investigating age-related olfaction deterioration that often precedes neurodegenerative disease.

Her research has been published in journals such as the Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Comparative Neurology, Trends in Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Aging and PNAS. Dr. Mobley has received several grants including the Ruth Kirstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) at the graduate level under Dr. Mary T. Lucero and at the postdoctoral level under Dr. Charles Greer. She went on to obtain an NIH Small Grant Program (R03) award that was instrumental in beginning her independent research program at WNEU.

"In my position as a Study Director I interface directly with customers to assess customer needs and ensure accurate capture of project specifications in order to develop detailed project plans," Mobley writes on The Jackson Lab's website. "I ensure that plans are successfully tracked and seamlessly executed by ensuring that staff understand and are compliant with all policies and procedures to ensure the most efficient operation, and provide customers with the highest quality scientific service.

"I am uniquely positioned to develop and execute strategic innovation and improvement initiatives, with the objectives to increase capacity, expand product offerings, improve service quality and improve customer experience. I participate in research validation data analysis and support implementation of new techniques and processes."

With her husband Michael, the Mobleys have one daughter.

 

 
by David Pace
 

Ryan Watts, BS’00

Dr. Ryan Watts, BS’00 in Biology, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Denali Therapeutics, a biotechnology company focused on finding treatments and cures for neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Watts and his colleagues at Denali are passionate about discovering drug therapies to help over 22 million people across the world who are fighting crippling neurodegenerative illnesses. In fact, Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases are reaching epidemic proportions. Expressed solely in financial terms, the cost of treating people with Alzheimer’s and other dementias is estimated to exceed $260 billion by 2020 in the U.S. alone.

Watts graduated from Cottonwood High School and came to the University of Utah, reflecting his desire to attend a top-tier research institution. As an undergraduate, Watts received the opportunity to conduct research in the Department of Biology. It was there that Ryan discovered the passion that would determine his career path. Along with his undergraduate research experience, Ryan served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Baldomero “Toto” Olivera and was a Pediatric Technician in Surgery at Primary Children’s Medical Center.

Watts was particularly impacted by his interactions with Dr. Olivera because he recognized how Olivera’s biochemical insights could be translated into treatments for pain. Ryan excelled in the lab and the classroom, and upon graduation was accepted into Stanford University’s Biological Sciences doctoral training program.

At Stanford, Ryan continued to distinguish himself in research and received his Ph.D. in 2004, focusing on the molecules that regulate nervous system development. Afterwards, he accepted a position at Genentech. During his eleven-year tenure there, Watts focused initially on developing therapies for cancer, then switched his attention to neurodegenerative diseases. He led Genentech’s entry into Alzheimer’s disease discovery and drug development, eventually building and leading their newly created Neuroscience Labs.

Watts and a select group of neuroscientists and investors eventually formed a biotech startup named Denali Therapeutics. In contrast to the broad approach of companies like Genentech, Denali would be fully specialized in solving the mystery of neurodegeneration.

Founded in 2015, and headquartered in South San Francisco, Denali Therapeutics has already raised more than $349 million and grown to more than 110 employees. As the name Denali suggests, the treatment and study of neurodegenerative diseases pose significant challenges. These conditions, and therefore the therapies targeting them, are difficult to track. In contrast to cancer, neurodegeneration is both more difficult to target than cancerous tumors and has fewer and less well-defined biomarkers.

Reflecting on his time as a student at the U, Watts has some advice for the current generation of students. “Build connections with the incredible faculty at the U and explore opportunities to get in the research lab as soon as possible. Top notch research universities like the U offer a unique chance to discover original insights as part of your education.”