PhD candidate Luisa Maria Rojas, MS
PhD candidate Luisa Maria Rojas, MS

University’s Data Science Institute Awards Fellowship to Postdoctoral Candidate

Chase Congleton
Chase Congleton
PhD candidate Luisa Maria Rojas, MS
PhD candidate Luisa Maria Rojas, MS
Luisa Rojas, MS, will use the fellowship to expand studies on the body’s inflammatory response after a brain injury

Clinical Translational Sciences PhD candidate, Luisa Maria Rojas, MS, has been selected for the Data Science Fellowship (DSF) by the University of Arizona’s Data Science Institute.

Rojas analyzes a sample under the microscope in the lab
Rojas analyzes a sample under the microscope in the lab
The focus of her thesis is the study of dietary therapies after traumatic brain injury (TBI) and evaluating the effectiveness of the treatments through the microbiota-gut-brain axis.

“The successful completion of this study provides insights into new therapeutic treatments for TBI,” Rojas said. “Dietary therapies that complement the clinical treatments will put the patients in a better position for recovery after a brain injury.”

The DSF is an opportunity for field trainees to learn data science principals, tools and resources to accelerate the data analysis in their research groups. The fellowship also covers half of the fellow’s stipend for a year.

“For me, the DSF is the opportunity to learn about a whole new field of work,” Rojas said. “It provides a training period in open data science and the opportunity to give back to the community the knowledge acquired during the training.”

Rojas has been fascinated by neuroscience since high school and said the inflammatory response after a brain injury interested her.

She became motivated to pursue this line of research after witnessing the digestive issues and infections that TBI patients have. “The study of the gut microbiome is not invasive and could give us important information about the recovery process after TBI,” she said.

Rojas discovered her mentor Jonathan Lifshitz, PhD, through his publications on inflammation after brain injury.

Dr. Lifshitz is a professor in the Department of Child health at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System. He leads the Neurotrauma and Social Impact team and is a leader in the field of TBI research.

Rojas with her mentor Dr. Lifshitz
Rojas with her mentor Dr. Lifshitz
Through his lab, she’s been able to find support and training opportunities in data science.

“When I joined the lab, I realized early on that I was in a supportive environment; all the lab members made me feel at home,” Rojas said. “Dr. Lifshitz has influenced my research in the way to perceive the patients, to consider the social and personal aspects of the patients that modified and influenced recovery after a brain injury.”

She also credits the many mentors who’ve influenced her over the years and have helped her get the Fulbright scholarship.

After she completes her dissertation, she will pursue an academic postdoctoral position in a translational research laboratory. Rojas also hopes to develop a career in academia as an independent investigator.

“As a woman from Colombia and a Fulbright scholar, I am committed to promoting cultural interchange, diversity and equity throughout my career,” Rojas said. “My goal is to become a high-quality researcher and to prioritize mentoring students and trainees.”

About the College

Founded in 2007, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix inspires and trains exemplary physicians, scientists and leaders to optimize health and health care in Arizona and beyond. By cultivating collaborative research locally and globally, the college accelerates discovery in a number of critical areas — including cancer, stroke, traumatic brain injury and cardiovascular disease. Championed as a student-centric campus, the college has graduated 669 physicians, all of whom received exceptional training from nine clinical partners and more than 2,600 diverse faculty members. As the anchor to the Phoenix Bioscience Core, which is projected to have an economic impact of $3.1 billion by 2025, the college prides itself on engaging with the community, fostering education, inclusion, access and advocacy.