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Zaida Ramirez-Ortiz, PhD


By Merin C. MacDonald | Date published: July 19, 2023

July Researcher Spotlight: Zaida Ramirez-Ortiz, PhD

In this month’s Researcher Spotlight, we highlight the work of Zaida Ramirez-Ortiz, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, and faculty in the Program in Innate Immunity.

Dr. Ramirez-Ortiz’s research focuses on understanding the role of mammalian Scavenger Receptors (SR), Toll-like Receptors (TLRs) and Triggering Receptor expressed on Myeloid Cells (TREM) in innate immune responses to a myriad of danger molecules derived from foreign and self-host sources. Specifically, her lab studies the role and molecular mechanism of this receptor in the clearance of apoptotic cells. Failure of this essential process leads to the accumulation of apoptotic cells. Therefore, impaired apoptotic cell uptake results in the loss of immune self-tolerance and the development of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Her group uses mouse models and human patient samples to characterize the molecular mechanisms of apoptotic cell removal, and to reveal novel biomarkers, and identify new potential therapeutic strategies. The objective of her research is to gain a better understanding of the processes required for effective cellular debris removal that will most likely present new targets not only for lupus but for many autoimmune, metabolic, and infectious diseases. 

Dr. Ramirez-Ortiz is currently the principal investigator on a Department of Defense project where she is investigating the role of SCARF1 in efferocytosis and the prevention of lupus. The goal of this project is to uncover how the interaction between SCARF1-expressing immune cells and apoptotic cells affects the inflammatory response and regulates the development of lupus. She is also the principal investigator on an NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease R21, where she is investigating the role of SCARF in the removal of apoptotic debris and protection against autoimmunity. Additionally, she is the principal investigator on a Lupus Research Alliance project where she is studying mechanisms of SCARF1 in the regulation of systemic lupus erythematosus.    

In addition to her research, she finds teaching and mentoring technicians and fellows highly rewarding. Of this, she says, I love when I hear back from a prior mentee updating me on all [their] personal and professional successes since they moved on from my lab. Like Joseph Joubert said, ‘To teach is to learn twice’. She has also participated in the Summer Under-Represented Program at UMass Chan to guide and mentor minority undergraduate students.  

Dr. Ramirez-Ortiz earned her PhD in Infectious Disease at UMass Chan Medical School, under the mentorship of Dr. Stuart Levitz, professor of medicine in the Division of Infection Diseases and Immunology. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship in Immunology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School under the mentorship of Dr. Terry Means. Dr. Ramirez-Ortiz joined the faculty at UMass Chan in 2019. 

We are thankful to Dr. Ramirez-Ortiz for her many contributions as an investigator and mentor in the Department of Medicine. 

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