Celebrating women in discovery science

International Women and Girls in Science Day was on February 11 and UCSF News took the opportunity to highlight some of the women behind the university’s boldest research endeavors.

School of Pharmacy faculty members Balyn Zaro, PhD, and Catera Wilder, PhD, were among eleven UCSF scientists who shared stories about their careers as women researchers as well as the biomedical questions that their laboratories are taking on.

“My mom is a chemical engineer. She was my inspiration to pursue science as a career,” said Wilder, who is a faculty member in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, a joint department of the Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine.

Wilder uses mathematics and computational modeling to understand lung inflammation, combining approaches from engineering and immunology. “If we can determine the signals that trigger this excessive inflammation, we might be able to identify patients who are at risk of developing complications during infections,” she said. “Then, we can develop new tactics for preventing and treating that inflammation.”

Zaro, who is a faculty member in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, encouraged women to be open to the opportunities they encountered in the course of pursuing their scientific passions. She studies diversity in the innate immune system, which can influence how patients respond to disease as well as disease treatment.

Zaro’s passion for questions about immunity led her to the perplexing phenomenon of Lyme disease, which can be easily treated in some patients but not others. Her lab uses Lyme disease as a model for understanding other conditions, including cancer.

“Immunotherapy is advancing the way we treat cancer, but people have vastly different responses,” said Zaro. “I want to understand why those differences exist, which could lead to more targeted treatments and help more patients.”


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.