Brian P Wellensiek, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Glendale, AZ

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Dr. Wellensiek received his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona, and completed his postdoctoral work at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.  His research focuses on understanding non-traditional protein translation and how this mechanism contributes to the overall protein diversity found in eukaryotic cells.  Furthermore, his laboratory is exploring how to use genomic sequences called translation enhancing elements to improve vaccinia virus-based vaccines.

Associate Professor

Glendale, AZ

College of Veterinary Medicine
College of Graduate Studies - AZ

Biomedical Sciences

Biomedical Sciences (M.A.)
Biomedical Sciences (M.B.S.)
Veterinary Medicine

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University of Arizona | 2007 | Ph.D.
University of Nebraska at Lincoln | 2002 | B.S.

Courses Taught



Molecular Virology


Understanding non-traditional protein translation. In contrast to classical eukaryotic translation, which involves the recognition of a cap structure at the 5’ end of an RNA message, a growing body of evidence has provided support for the existence of translation that occurs in the absence of a 5’ cap. This non-classical mode of protein translation has been shown to play an important role in many cellular events, however little is known regarding the mechanism behind how this is accomplished. In previous research I have identified a large number of sequences, termed translation enhancing elements (TEEs), that can facilitate cap-independent translation. My research will now analyze these sequences and explore their function. More specifically, a 13-nucleotide motif has been identified that has the capacity to modulate cap-independent translation. Further characterization of this motif will allow us to better understand this non-traditional method of protein production.

Using translation enhancing elements to improve human health. The use of the vaccinia virus (VACV) as a vaccine vector was instrumental in the eradication of smallpox in the 1970’s. Since this success, research on VACV has produced a number of vaccines, with several strains in development against a wide array of infectious diseases. These viruses range from highly attenuated strains (many of which are replication incompetent) to non-attenuated strains that are fully replication competent. Although many of the non-attenuated strains are highly immunogenic, they are often poor vaccine candidates due to higher than normal complication rates associated with the replication of VACV within the patient. Conversely, non-replicating viral vectors provide increased safety but are often not immunogenic enough to make potent vaccines. My research aims to address this problem by introducing previously identified TEEs into attenuated VACV vaccine strains to increase antigen production and therefore increase the efficiency of these vaccines.


Amber N. Juba, John C. Chaput and Brian P. Wellensiek.  Exploring the Role of AUG Triplets in Human Cap-Independent Translation Enhancing Elements.  Biochemistry. Nov. 2018, 57(44): 6308-6318.


Bharat P. Bashyal, Brian P. Wellensiek, Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Stanley H. Faeth, Nafees Ahmad, and A. A. Leslie Gunatilaka.  Altertoxins with Potent anti-HIV Activity from Alternaria tenuissima QUE1Se, a Fungal Endophyte of Quercus emoryiBioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry.  Nov. 2014, 22(21): 6112-6116.


Brian P. Wellensiek, Andrew C. Larsen, Julia Flores, Bertram L. Jacobs, and John C. Chaput.  A Leader Sequence Capable of Enhancing RNA Expression and Protein Synthesis in Mammalian Cells.  Protein Science. Oct. 2013, 22(10): 1392-1398.


Brian P. Wellensiek, Andrew C. Larsen, Bret Stephens, Kim Kukurba, Karl Waern, Natalia Briones, Li Liu, Michael Snyder, Bertram L. Jacobs, Sudhir Kumar, and John C. Chaput. Genome-Wide Profiling of Human Cap-Independent Translation Enhancing Elements. Nature Methods. August 2013, 10(8): 747-750.


Brian P. Wellensiek, Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Bharat P. Bashyal, Yvette Eason, A. A. Leslie Gunatilaka and Nafees Ahmad.  Inhibition of HIV-1 Replication by Secondary Metabolites From Endophytic Fungi of Desert Plants. The Open Virology Journal. July 2013, 7: 72-80.


Brian P. Wellensiek, Rajesh Ramakrishnan, Vasudha Sundaravaradan, Roshni Mehta, David T. Harris and Nafees Ahmad.  Differential HIV-1 Integration Targets more Actively Transcribed Host Genes in Neonatal than Adult Blood Mononuclear Cells. Virology. March 1 2009, 385(1): 28-38.


Brian P. Wellensiek, Vasudha Sundaravaradan, Rajesh Ramakrishnan and Nafees Ahmad.  Molecular Characterization of the HIV-1 gag Nucleocapsid Gene Associated with Vertical Transmission. Retrovirology April 6 2006, 3: 21.


Member: American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Academic Research Enhancement Award

College of Veterinary Medicine at Midwestern University.

Brian P. Wellensiek (Co-PI) and Angela M. Mexas (Co-PI)

“Induction and Maintenance of Regulatory Phenotype and Function in Feline T Cell Lines”

3/2017 – 9/2017


Multidisciplinary Research Stimulus Award

Midwestern University

John C. Mitchell (Co-PI), M. Teresa Pulido (Co-PI), Brian P. Wellensiek (Co-PI) and Delrae M. Eckman (Co-PI)

“Can laser therapy in the dental office heal cold sores better than anything else?”

7/2017 – 7/2018