April 07, 2016

Leon-Ruiz’s early career continues to heighten with asthma research

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RS13216 Beatriz Leon Ruiz 7 RT scr 1“Having a good mentor early in one’s career can mean the difference between success and failure in any career,” said Beatriz León-Ruiz, assistant professor of Microbiology at UAB.

In 2008, her most impactful mentorship began when León-Ruiz joined the lab of Frances Lund, Ph.D., (now chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology), in New York as a postdoctoral associate at Trudeau Institute.

“In short, Frances Lund was an amazing mentor to guide and push and pull me along. She has helped me tremendously with specific research projects, but also by exposing me to her view about the scientific career more generally,” she sad. “She has had a tremendous impact on me as a researcher.” 

León-Ruiz was born and raised in Spain. While she liked to study science from primary to high school, she says she never had a long-term goal of being a scientist.

“I was good at science,” she said.  “I began reading on my own instead of reading for a particular class and decided that I wanted to study biological and biomedical sciences because I wanted to work in a lab, as part of a research team, and make scientific discoveries to develop a deep understanding of living organisms and to positively impact human health and health outcomes.”

Leon-Ruiz was selected as a junior faculty recipient of the 2015 Dean’s Excellence Award in Research. Nominated by her colleagues in the Department of Microbiology, they said the she “amplifies her impact on our campus by eagerly and effectively sharing her knowledge and ideas with students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty throughout UAB.” León-Ruiz regularly publishes as the lead author in top tier journals, with several papers having been cited over 100 times.  She also participates regularly as a collaborator, contributing to many co-authored publications that have also generated significant interest from experts in her field.

“I have to thank the people in the department that nominated me and wrote all of the recommendation letters for this honor because they are just fantastic,” she said.

In 2002, León-Ruiz earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Complutense University of Madrid. Then in 2007, she earned her doctorate in microbiology and immunology from Autonomous University of Madrid.  After her postdoctoral fellowship, she worked in Lund’s lab at the University of Rochester before coming to UAB in 2012.

Most of her research has focused on dendritic cells and their ability to present antigen to T cells to initiate adaptive immune responses and on manipulating in vivo dendritic cell function to either elicit extensive immune responses with therapeutic effects, in the context of vaccination, or to abrogate unwanted immune responses, in the context of allergy and autoimmune diseases.

She became interested in studying asthma while completing her doctorate after studying different types of allergen-induced immune responses. “This is one of my favorite research areas, specifically in infants and children. I think this time frame is important because usually the first symptoms develop before age 5.”

León-Ruiz is senior author a recent study published in the journal Immunity, in which researchers discovered a previously unknown step in biologic pathways that lead to asthma. The new understanding of the allergic response could pave the way for new therapies to treat the incurable disease.

She received her first R01 in February 2015 to study regulation of T cell responses to allergens and environmental microbes. She is also a co-investigator on two pending R01 grants and an R21 grant with investigators in the Departments of Microbiology, Genetics, Medicine and Pediatrics.

In 2015, both Leon-Ruiz and her husband Andre Ballesteros-Tato, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, were two of five SOM faculty members named the inaugural Pittman Scholars. The program recognizes the contributions of junior faculty and supports the retention of highly competitive scientists and physician-scientists.