New Faculty Focus: Fatima Rivas

Dr. Fatima RivasDr Rivas received her BS from California State Dominguez Hills University where she was an exceptional student, receiving numerous awards including a MARC scholarship and the University’s Outstanding Student of the Year Award. For her PhD at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), she joined the research group of Professor Emmanuel Theodorakis, where she received a rigorous training in organic synthesis.  Her studies focused on zoanthamine marine natural products, compounds with potential in treating bone-degenerating diseases such as osteoporosis.  Amongst her recognitions at the graduate level, Fatima received a Teaching Assistant Excellence Award and she was the recipient of a prestigious Individual Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Program. She received an NIH Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA) fellowship to conduct postdoctoral studies in the laboratory of Professor K. C. Nicolaou at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA.  She co-taught at San Diego State University for three years as part of her postdoctoral program.  In the laboratory, she worked on the notorious maitotoxin polyether natural products.  These efforts culminated in a four-author article titled, “Chemical synthesis of the ABCDEFG ring system of Maitotoxin” that was published by the Journal of the American Chemical Society in 2010.

Dr. Rivas with student in lab
Delmarie Rivera-Rodriguez (Department of Biochemistry and Cancer Research Unit, Universidad del Caribe-School of Medicine) and Dr Fatima Rivas.

With this stunning track-record and pedigree, Dr Rivas accepted a non-tenured position at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN, in 2010.  In the intervening years, she has added adjunct appointments at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center to facilitate collaborations.  The theme of her research is the use of terpene natural products as molecular probes for disease.  Using her formidable skills in organic synthesis, she has reported innovative routes to terpenoids bearing endoperoxide functionality and spirocyclic architectures.  Moreover, she has developed the expertise to assess the compounds as probes for signaling by ROS (reactive oxygen species) and the regulation of glucocorticoid receptors in cellular systems.  Her publications are an immensely readable blend of chemistry and biology.  She has been assisted by a staff chemist and biochemist.  In the summers she has enjoyed working with undergraduate students as part of NIH-funded programs.  Wherever possible, Fatima has contributed voluntarily to teaching.  She has been active in her communities, serving on NIH panels, organizing symposia at ACS meetings and participating in formal student mentoring programs.

Notwithstanding her success at St Judes, Fatima decided to seek a more conventional tenure-track position last year so that she could more fully indulge her passion for both teaching and research.  The driving force behind her research success has been her own stalwart efforts in the laboratory.  She looks forward to having graduate students in her team at LSU and relishes the opportunity to serve as a role model and mentor.  She says, “I bring experience, diversity and an exciting chemical biology program to your institution.”

Contributed by Carol M. Taylor (June 2020)