The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson’s Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD, has been named one of 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America by Cell Mentor, an online resource from Cell Press and Cell Signaling Technology that provides early-career researchers with career insights, publishing advice, and techniques on experimental processes and procedures.
“It is an honor and certainly was a surprise to be nominated for this national recognition,” Dr. Merchant said. “Mentoring is one of the most enjoyable activities that I engage in. Perhaps more than the science, it is investment in training the next generation that carries your legacy forward.”
A professor and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Dr. Merchant is a cancer biology program researcher at the UArizona Cancer Center, an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, and a renowned physician-scientist who has advanced the understanding of the gastric and colonic responses to chronic inflammation leading to gastric or colon cancer.
As both a medical doctor and a basic scientist, Dr. Merchant describes herself as straddling the clinical and research worlds.
“I have a PhD in cell biology, and I love digging deeper into molecular mechanisms. But as a clinician, I see patients. Getting the research to translate is really hard,” Dr. Merchant said. “Basic scientists and clinicians are sort of spinning in their own orbits. This latter part of my career, I want to focus on bringing them together to try to move the needle with respect to treatments.”
Studies from the Merchant Lab focus on the role of bacterial colonization and the development of type B chronic atrophic gastritis in a mouse model. They found that, during infection by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, certain immune cells are recruited to the stomach and over time change their phenotype from pro-inflammatory to immune-suppressive, which triggers cancer progression. Her lab also is actively investigating the role of ZBP-89, a zinc finger transcription factor, in polyp formation preceding colon cancer.
The list of inspiring Black scientists was put together for Cell Mentor by the Community of Scholars, a group composed of postdoctoral fellows, early-stage investigators, instructors and consultants with a mission to advance scientific discovery while innovating diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. The group compiled the list to celebrate Black talent and dismantle the myth that outstanding Black scientists make up a small percentage of the scientific community.