Ellen T Arena

From tissue microbiologist to microscopist to developer - anything is possible.
Morgridge Institute for Research
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Waterloo, United States
Madison, United States
Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium infection of the gallbladder: a novel in vivo epithelial cell infection model
B Brett Finlay

Where and what is your current position?

I am a tissue microbiologist receiving additional training in image informatics via the Morgridge Interdisciplinary Fellows Program. My collaborative project involves the development and application of statistically robust computational approaches for colocalization within the open-source imaging toolkit ImageJ, in collaboration with Morgridge Senior Investigator Dr. Ming Yuan, Virology. We will then be working with Dr. Nate Sherer, Oncology to apply newly developed colocalization techniques within a biological context to quantitatively measure the progression of HIV viral particle intracellular maturation. My primary focus is software development in the bioimaging informatics community, as well as image and data analysis that spans virology and computation in biology.

How does this job relate to your graduate degree?

My doctoral research focused on tissue microbiology, specifically on the characterization of Salmonella typhimurium infection of the gallbladder during an acute, murine model of typhoid fever. During this time, I was first introduced to imaging, where I carried out mainly wide-field microscopy, as well as a small amount of electron microscopy. As a result of this exposure, a genuine interest was formed. For the next step in my scientific training, I therefore aimed to continue studies of the host’s response to invading pathogens during my postdoctoral work. I knew my training in tissue microbiology had made me well prepared to answer important questions in this field while exploring new experimental models. However, I also wanted to expand my experience in optical microscopy, choosing a research environment that would allow me to regularly apply imaging techniques. I found exactly that within the laboratory of Philippe Sansonetti at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. During my time at Institut Pasteur, I vastly expanded my knowledge and experience in microscopy, which led me to my current position in a top optical and computational imaging lab where I am now focusing all my training on computational bioimage analysis.

What motivated you to pursue graduate work at UBC?

The laboratory of B. Brett Finlay is one of the top pathogenesis labs in the world, and of course, UBC is an extremely competitive university worldwide. Not to mention, Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. In the end, the choice was easy.

What are key things you did that contributed to your success?

I have always tried to make decisions based on what would bring me the most joy – both personally and professionally. Science has taken me around the world and now brought me home; though now it is my career that is changing paths with this most recent move. From tissue microbiologist to microscopist to developer – anything is possible.

What is your best piece of advice for current graduate students preparing for their future careers?

I would advise students to be open to new opportunities – even those that may take them from their own predefined career path. As long as they are enthusiastic, fulfilled, and inspired, doors will fly open and could lead anywhere. I would never have thought that moving to Vancouver and Paris to work in bacterial pathogenesis would lead me to a career in imaging back in my wonderful home state of Wisconsin.

What do you like and what do you find challenging about your current position?

I am a tissue microbiologist who is now training as a developer in the bioimage analysis field. Opportunities to completely change fields in science are quite rare, so I find it absolutely exciting to have this opportunity before me. And it all started at UBC.