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Jenna C. Taylor
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Karen K. Kaplan,
Assistant Vice President
of Public Affairs
Director of University
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Chief Communications Officer

 

Cynthia J. Johnson, PhD
Director of Development Communications

Kevin J. Foyle, MBA, CFRE
Vice President
for Development

Young Investigators Awards

With family members and mentors looking on, eight top researchers received Young Investigator awards honoring the work they have accomplished early in their careers.

The awards ceremony, held on Oct. 20, 2009, celebrated the achievements of researchers throughout University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) institutions.

"They cover the full spectrum," Executive Vice President for Research Peter Davies observed, commenting on the areas of investigation, which range from dentistry to epidemiology and neurology. Davies, whose office sponsors the awards, opened the presentation ceremony, which was held in the Beth Robertson auditorium at The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases (IMM).

President Larry R. Kaiser, M.D., emphasized the value of young researchers to the institution. "Creating new knowledge is a particularly important part of our mission and it is our young investigators who are the basis of this."

Faculty mentors and deans introduced the award recipients:

Cesar Arias, M.D., M.S.C., Ph.D., presented by Barbara Murray, M.D.
Kim Dunn, M.D. Ph.D., presented by Jack Smith, M.D., Ph.D.
Nicole R. Gonzales, M.D., presented by James C. Grotta, M.D.
Shaoling Huang, M.D., presented by Melvin Klegerman, M.D.
Hamed Jafar-Nejad, M.D., presented by C. Thomas Caske, M.D.
Bahman Sayyar Roudsari, Ph.D., School of Public Health,
Dallas Regional Campus, presented by Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H.

Melissa Stigler, Ph.D., M.P.H., School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus,
presented by Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H.

Yunzhi Yang, Ph.D., presented by John Valenza, D.D.S.

Click on the links to see the young investigators' summaries of their research.

Cesar Arias, M.D., M.S.C., Ph.D., presented by Barbara Murray, M.D.

Barbara Murray, MD, standing alongside Cesar Arias, MD, MSC, PhD, after he receives his award.

Barbara Murray, MD, standing alongside Cesar Arias, MD, MSC, PhD, after he receives his award.

My laboratory focuses on studying the molecular and clinical aspects of antibiotic resistant bacteria with emphasis on two microorganisms, enterococci and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Infections caused by resistant bacteria are a pressing public health issue since these bacteria can strike anyone, the young and the old, the healthy and the chronically ill. About 2 million people acquire bacterial infections in U.S. hospitals each year, and 90,000 die as a result. Currently we are facing infections against which no antimicrobial agent is reliably effective. The aims of our research involve i) characterization of the molecular mechanisms by which super-bugs become resistant to antibiotics in order to design novel ways to attack them, ii) investigation of the ways by which drug-resistant microorganisms are capable of disseminating in the hospital environment and cause disease and iii) the clinical impact of antibiotic resistance. My laboratory also performs extensive research in Latin America, with the main objective of characterizing the molecular epidemiology of super-bugs circulating in that part of the world, which have a significant impact on public health development of those countries. I consider myself humbled and very honored to be one of the recipients of the UT Young Investigator Award for 2009. This recognition is a tremendous stimulus to continue working on fighting the big threat caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Kim Dunn, M.D. Ph.D., presented by Jack Smith, M.D., Ph.D.

My expertise is in the use of information technology for improving access and decreasing costs of care; community health information networks; hand-held computer devices in knowledge capture and data verification; and telemedicine. I am also a practicing physician and clinical epidemiologist. I founded the Your Doctor Program, L.P. to support a medical home model and to foster an accountable healthcare system. I recently received an NIH Challenge Grant Award, supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for my work in this area. I believe the medical home can improve quality of care through telemedicine and act as a strategic stepping-stone to a sustainable health information exchange model. I am very proud to receive this young (at heart!) investigators award and to have the recognition of my colleagues here and at the national level through NIH.

Nicole R. Gonzales, M.D., presented by James C. Grotta, M.D.


James C. Grotta, MD and Young Investigator Award recipient Nicole R. Gonzales, MD

James C. Grotta, MD and Young Investigator Award recipient Nicole R. Gonzales, MD

Intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) is a devastating disease with fewer than 20% of survivors being independent at 6 months. In an ICH-type of stroke, a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and blood spills into the brain. There is currently no approved treatment for ICH which has been shown to improve outcomes. In an effort to develop a new treatment for ICH, our research focuses on a different approach which has not yet been studied: using a medication to stimulate the body's own cleaning cells to take away the blood faster. We are studying the medication, pioglitazone, which is used to treat diabetes. The first step is to make sure that this medication is safe in patients who have ICH and, if so, to see if it helps the ICH to heal in a way that leads to improvement in patient outcomes. I am honored to receive this award on behalf of my team. It's a real privilege to be part of the UT family.

Shaoling Huang, M.D., presented by Melvin Klegerman, M.D.

My research program is focused on biomaterials for therapeutics delivery. I have a background in pharmacology, medicine, and lipid biochemistry; my research bridges the basic understanding of lipid biology with therapeutics delivery for cardiovascular disease treatment. Currently, my research interests are in the fields of (a) multifunctional liposomes for ultrasound imaging and ultrasound controlled therapeutic delivery; (b) the neuroprotective effect of bioactive gases for stroke and myocardium ischemia therapy aiming at improving the current stroke therapy by co-encapsulating tissue plasminogen activator with neuroprotective gas such as xenon as a supplement therapeutic method in stroke; and c) bioactive gas for enhancing the delivery of therapeutics and stem cells into atherosclerosis and cancer sites for local therapeutics delivery with potentially higher efficacy and lower side effects.

Hamed Jafar-Nejad, M.D., presented by C. Thomas Caske, M.D.

It has been known for a long time that a large fraction of cellular proteins are decorated with a variety of sugar molecules. But until recently, the roles played by these carbohydrates in animal development were largely unknown. Our group uses the fruit fly and mouse model systems to study the contribution of a highly conserved form of sugar modification in some of the key events during embryonic development. Specifically, we study an enzyme called Rumi which adds glucose residues to a receptor called Notch. Fruit flies mutant for Rumi show severe developmental defects due to impaired Notch signaling when raised at high temperatures. We would like to understand the molecular mechanisms of these temperature-sensitive defects. We are also examining whether a mouse homolog of Rumi plays a similar role during development. Mutations in the components of the Notch pathway cause a variety of human diseases, including leukemia, vascular dementia, hereditary liver disease, and aortic valve defects. We hope that our studies will not only shed light on a basic biological mechanism used to regulate developmental signaling, but may also help us better understand the pathophysiology of Notch-related diseases. The Young Investigator Award program signifies UTHealth's commitment to supporting its junior investigators. I highly appreciate being one of this year's awardees.

Bahman Sayyar Roudsari, Ph.D., School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus, presented by Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H.

Alcohol is involved in 40-50% of the hospitalizations in level I and II trauma centers. My study evaluates the extra-health care utilization due to alcohol-involved injuries in prehospital and in-hospital setting, after adjustment for potential confounding variables. We will place special emphasis on gender and race/ethnicity as potential variables that might influence the association between blood alcohol concentration and resource utilization in trauma centers. The primary strength of the proposed study is linking of prehospital and hospital data to a clinical trial that has detailed information about alcohol consumption pattern, beyond acute blood alcohol concentration in the emergency department for trauma patients. The proposed study will provide evidence about the necessity of improving existing or implementing new alcohol screening programs in large urban level I and II trauma centers that are responsible for providing care to the most disadvantaged groups of the population.

Melissa Stigler, Ph.D., M.P.H., School of Public Health Austin Regional Campus, presented by Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H.

Melissa Stigler is a behavioral epidemiologist whose research focuses on promoting the health of children and adolescents domestically, in Central Texas, and overseas, in India. She has been integrally involved in numerous large-scale randomized trials designed to test the efficacy of a diverse set of strategies to improve young people's health, like school-based curriculum, community-based organizing, and youth-led health activism. These interventions seek to alleviate behaviors in adolescence such as tobacco use, physical inactivity, or alcohol use, which that put them at risk for negative health outcomes later in life. Dr. Stigler currently serves as the US-based Principal Investigator of a large-scale randomized trial of a community-based intervention to reduce tobacco use among disadvantaged youth living in slum communities in Delhi, India. This study, called Project ACTIVITY, is funded by the National Institutes of Health. At present, Dr. Stigler also serves as the Senior Associate Editor of the next Surgeon General's Report on tobacco use, which will focus on reducing tobacco use among youth worldwide.

Yunzhi Yang, Ph.D., presented by John Valenza, D.D.S.


Yunzhi “Peter” Yang accepting his award as Dental Branch Interim Dean John Valenza, DDS,  listens.

Yunzhi “Peter” Yang accepting his award as Dental Branch Interim Dean John Valenza, DDS, listens.

My research program is focused on bio-inspired biomaterials for implant devices, tissue regeneration, and cancer treatment. As a bioengineer, my research lies at the interfaces of fundamental material science, biology, and clinical applications at the macro-, micro- and nanoscale level, where basic understanding of biology inspires the design and development of novel biomaterials for medical applications. Currently my research interests are in the field of (a) nanotechnology for implant devices; (b) enabling technology for tissue regeneration; and (c) naturally based biomaterials for cancer treatment. In the dental and orthopedic implant device research, my group aims at improving the current implant device performance by surface modification such as manipulating nano-texture surface on implant devices. In bone regeneration, my group is designing and fabricating "smart tissue engineered constructs" to treat patients with birth defects such as cleft palate. In the cancer research, my group is exploring naturally based biomaterials for local chemotherapy with potentially higher efficacy and lower side effect to treat cancers such as malignant gliomas. This recognition of a new investigator award at UTHealth is not only a prestigious honor to me, but also is a commitment of the university to support new investigators like me. Thank you very much.