Cecilia I. Zurita-Lopez, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Cal State LA, has been named a 2017 Emerging Scholar by the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.
Zurita-Lopez is featured in the latest issue of Diverse, which highlights 12 minority scholars who are making their marks in academia and setting the standard for the next generation of leaders.
A Cal State LA faculty member since 2014, Zurita-Lopez researches the role of arginine methyltransferases, enzymes that modify other proteins and whose modification is implicated in many diseases, including cancer. Her research on the identification and characterization of protein arginine methylatransferases has led to more than 12 publications in scholarly journals.
As an undergraduate student at Cal State LA, Zurita-Lopez had the opportunity to engage in laboratory research early in her academic career. The experience was eye opening.
"Ever since my first laboratory experience under the direction of Dr. Frank Gomez, I have enjoyed research and had many opportunities to present my scientific contributions both in written form via publications and by traveling to different conferences," said Zurita-Lopez, who is a Montebello resident.
As a postdoctoral researcher at USC, Zurita-Lopez contributed to the development of a label-free sensor capable of detecting epigenetic markers prominent in cancer. The sensor uses light to measure pure proteins. The work was particularly meaningful because Zurita-Lopez lost her mother to breast cancer.
Community involvement and mentoring are important to Zurita-Lopez. As an undergraduate student, she organized community-based events to encourage interest in college and science. She remains active with the University's Minority Opportunities in Research Programs.
Zurita-Lopez has mentored three master's students at Cal State LA, two of whom have gone on to graduate programs at UCLA and the University of Pennsylvania. She currently mentors graduate and undergraduate students in her lab and serves as faculty advisor for the Chemistry & Biochemistry Club.
Zurita-Lopez is grateful for being selected as an Emerging Scholar and attributes her success to the diverse and supportive community at Cal State LA.
"I do not believe I would currently be a professor of biochemistry without the positive experiences I received as an undergraduate student at Cal State LA nor without the exemplary role models within the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department," she said.