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Alumni Spotlight on Dr. Beatriz Penalver Bernabe

"CRS allowed me to learn from experts in the field and exposed me to such a breath of topics in reproduction, including bioethics."”

Dr. Beatriz Penalver Bernabe, PhD

Dr. Beatriz Penalver Bernabe is a CRS alumna, class of 2014.  Her thesis research, mentored by  Dr. Lonnie D. Shea, PhD, was titled "Dynamic Systems Biology Approaches for Regenerative Medicine." She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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What is your connection to the CRS community (mentor and position) and what is your current position? 

During my PhD at Northwestern, I worked very closely with Dr. Teresa Woodruff and her team to develop signaling and metabolic computational models of ovarian follicle development in mice. We aimed to use the model to identify metabolites and ligands that could be add to the culture media to grow primordial follicles in vitro and secreted components by the follicle to the media that could be employed to identify the stage of folliculogenesis. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Could you describe your current research/studies? 

Our lab continues to be focused on women’s reproductive health and sex differences. One of our main projects is to understand the relationship between maternal mood disorders during pregnancy and postpartum (e.g., depression, anxiety) in relationship with the microorganisms that resides in the maternal gastrointestinal system (bacteria, fungi, virus). Mood disorders during pregnancy are very common, 10-20%, and if they are not treated can have negative consequences for both mother and infant (e.g., preterm birth, abnormal neurological development, future mental health disorders). Multiple bacteria in our colon can produce neurotransmitters or their precursors (e.g., GABA, dopamine, serotonin) and can also impact the bioavailability of estrogens and progesterone. Our current results show that individuals with perinatal depression harbor a distinct gut microbiome, immune system and metabolism compared with non-depressed pregnant individuals. We are also expanding our work on folliculogenesis. We have just finished creating the first genome-wide human metabolomic model of ovarian follicle development and we are validating it. We hope to make it available soon to the CRS community.  

What aspect(s) of CRS did you find most valuable?  

As an engineer by training with no expertise in reproduction science, the CRS allowed me to learn from experts in the field and exposed me to such a breath of topics in reproduction, including bioethics. 

What has been the most valuable aspect to your training as a reproductive scientist in CRS? 

One of the most important one for me it is the network that you can tap into, which have very well-connected top-notch reproductive researchers in the field. I still worked with the top scientists in the field that trained with me at Northwestern.  

What would you recommend to junior scientists in order for them succeed in their scientific careers?​  

Be curious, explore and talk to everybody!  

What do you think will be the next big contribution in the reproductive biology field? 

I don’t think I know…There are so many things going on! 

Do you have any notable stories from your time in CRS? 

Teresa Woodruff was starting her Oncofertility enterprise! Her leadership was fundamental and she really demonstrated how team science should be done.