Dr. Jill Steinbach-Rankins Receives NIH-COBRE grant

March 9, 2018

Headshot of Jill SteinbachBioengineering professor Dr. Jill Steinbach-Rankins is part of a team that was recently awards a National Institution of Health Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant for their work on “Functional Microbiomics, inflammation and Pathogenicity.” With a background in Materials Science Engineering and Biomedical Engineering, Steinbach-Rankins is part of a multidisciplinary team including microbiologists and dentists, the only engineer on the team. She has worked previously with the dental department on a measure to deliver peptides that help fight periodontal disease, developing not only a relationship with her current team members, but expanding her knowledge on how most efficiently disseminate treatments.

As part of her research, Steinbach-Rankins has worked with drug and gene delivery vehicles that provide more efficacious prophylactics/treatments for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For this project, Steinbach-Rankins and her team are focusing on a new means of treating Bacterial vaginalis, a prominent dysbiotic condition, resulting from the disruption of the diverse microbial communities that maintain host homeostasis and innate defense in the female reproductive tract. A widespread STD, while a BV infection is treatable, there is a recurrence that affects over 30% of women, imparting detrimental effects to female reproductive health, and Steinbach-Rankins and her team are seeking long term, effective methods of protection and treatment.

While she has worked with viral infections, for Steinbach-Rankins, her inclusion in the team serves as an opportunity to learn more about bacterial infections, and how to most effectively treat them.

“We had no bacterial experience. We’ve developed that over the past several years. I’m not a microbiologist, I’m an engineer. We’ve learned everything from scratch," she said. "Everything was relatively new to us. The way I look at it, we had done all this bacterial work with their lab, but we came about it from the delivery systems. Can we get good bacteria in these fibers, and test these against pathogens that are the ones that promote pathogens?”

The COBRE program carries with it some cachet, one only available to NIH-funded investigators with expertise relative to their objective, centers of research excellence that excel in their fields. Likewise, candidacy affords collaborators the opportunity to mentor one another in their respective areas, but in terms of how to more effectively lead their own research initiatives moving forward.

“I was a little bit nervous. I was honored to even be invited. It’s a prestigious opportunity to have a sense of mentorship and expanding your research into risky and unknown areas." Steinbach-Rankins said. "I wouldn’t have been able to learn this without.”