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### Interview with Aleah Bailey

In this latest installment of the Vital Signs series, we shine the spotlight on Aleah Bailey, a graduate student working in the Jaspers lab. Driven by a profound commitment to environmental justice, Bailey is dedicated to investigating the impact of stress and sociodemographic factors on systemic immune responses to exposure to wildfire smoke.

Aleah Bailey, a 4th-year PhD candidate in the laboratory of [Professor’s Name], who serves as the professor of microbiology & immunology and director of the [Lab Name] at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, is at the forefront of groundbreaking research. Bailey’s research methodology involves utilizing in vitro cell cultures, human clinical samples, and animal models to unravel the intricate relationship between stress, immune system functionality, and resilience to environmental chemical exposures like wildfire smoke.

Q: What were your early interests, and how did you transition into the field of biomedical science?

A: During my formative years, my fascination with criminal justice steered me towards a potential career in law. Engaged in the subject from a young age, I even participated in mock trial competitions during my time at a vocational high school. However, my passion for science, particularly biology and chemistry, blossomed during my high school years.

Faced with the dilemma of choosing between the two disciplines, I pursued a major in biochemistry at Rutgers University- New Brunswick. It was during this time that I was introduced to the realm of toxicology through a captivating Biochemical Toxicology course and my involvement in undergraduate research focused on the neurotoxic effects of pyrethroid insecticides.

Q: What motivated your decision to join the UNC and the specific research lab you are currently a part of?

A: Following my graduation from college in 2019, I embarked on a post-baccalaureate journey at UNC. Participating in the UNC [Program Name], a year-long research initiative, allowed me to cultivate my research skills and better equip myself for the rigors of graduate school. Intrigued by the field of toxicology, I gravitated towards joining the lab of Ilona Jaspers, renowned for her research on the human health implications of inhaled pollutants.

Under the mentorship of Ilona Jaspers and [Mentor’s Name], my proficiency in research methodologies flourished, bolstering my confidence in navigating the realm of graduate studies. The inclusive, nurturing, and intellectually stimulating environment at UNC captivated me, prompting my decision to continue my academic journey and enroll in the Ph.D. program. Reuniting with the Jaspers lab in 2021 as a graduate student was a natural choice, driven by the supportive mentorship, collaborative atmosphere, and abundant research prospects within the lab. Today, as a 4th-year student, I reflect on that decision with immense gratitude.

Q: Could you shed light on your current research focus?

A: My current research endeavors revolve around unraveling the intricate interplay between stress levels and responses to wildfire smoke exposure. Communities burdened with heightened stress levels, particularly minority and low socioeconomic status populations, often bear the brunt of environmental health inequities.

Central to my work is the hypothesis that elevated stress levels, gauged through an allostatic load index, underpin health complications that diminish resilience against future health challenges, such as environmental exposures. Employing a multifaceted approach encompassing in vitro cell cultures, human clinical specimens, and animal models, I aim to decipher how stress and sociodemographic variables intersect to influence systemic immune responses to wildfire smoke exposure.

Q: What aspect of your field inspires you the most?

A: The dynamic landscape of toxicology, continually evolving to address the impact of chemicals on human health, is a constant wellspring of inspiration. An emerging frontier in toxicology involves integrating non-chemical stressors encountered by marginalized communities into toxicological frameworks. Through my research and in collaboration with fellow scholars exploring extrinsic chemical susceptibility, I aspire to ensure that toxicological risk assessments encompass the disparate health vulnerabilities prevalent in underserved communities.

Q: What are your aspirations post-Ph.D. completion?

A: As I navigate the possibilities that align with my interests, my post-Ph.D. aspirations center around securing a role where I can innovate approaches to incorporate non-chemical stressors into toxicological risk assessments and advocate for environmental justice. Mentorship holds a special place in my heart, and I envision continuing to guide and support students and budding professionals as I advance in my career.