Morgridge Institute for Research

Ellen Arena: A career that traverses different fields, different countries

Ellen Arena’s young career has already taken her from an undergraduate degree at UW-Parkside in Racine to advanced degrees in British Columbia and Paris. Her research also has traversed from molecular biology to bacterial pathogens to microscopy and computation.

“I began as a young scientist full of ambition,” Arena says. “With that drive, I have followed the science, and it has taken me around the globe. Each step has been an informed, logical progression to locate the perfect environment for my evolving scientific interests.”

Arena’s new chapter at Morgridge will focus on microscopy and bioimaging of viral-host cell invasion. She will work directly with Kevin Eliceiri (medical engineering) and Ming Yuan (virology) of the Morgridge Institute; and with Nathan Sherer, a UW-Madison assistant professor of oncology.

“I am more driven by the desire to develop and apply new technologies to better understand dynamic biological phenomena rather than limiting myself to the pursuit of a single biological question,” she says.

One project will be to improve the optical hardware needed to track multi-color objects in real time. This type of work is becoming critical to understanding how pathogens, in particular HIV, invade host cells, by using fluorescence to track their movement in real time. Among other pathogens, she will be live-tracking HIV using this process.

“My aim is to emerge from this second postdoc with the necessary programming expertise to become an independent, active developer in the bioimaging informatics industry,” Arena says. “I am truly passionate about the interdisciplinary field of microscopy and bioimaging, which for me represents the perfect balance of science, collaboration, and innovation.”

After earning her bachelor’s in 2005, Arena went on to earn her PhD at the University of British Columbia, with a focus on characterizing “superbugs” such as Salmonella within infected tissues. In her current job at Institut Pasteur, Arena researches the interaction of the enteroinvasive bacterial pathogen, Shigella flexneri, within its targeted host tissue, on applying advanced imaging technologies.

In her free time, Arena is an avid amateur photographer, painter and musician.