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GSBS announces the 2014 Presidents’ Research Award Scholars

January 08, 2014

Tracey Barnett


The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston honored the newest group of Presidents’ Research Scholars at a symposium on January 30 (at noon) in the GSBS Large Classroom (BSRB S3.8371).  

Sponsored by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) President Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, M.D., and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center President Ronald DePinho, M.D., the awards provide a one-year scholarship in the amount of $5,000 which is awarded to outstanding students who have advanced to Ph.D. candidacy and who have achieved distinction in research while a GSBS student.  

This year’s Presidents’ Research Scholars:

Kimberly Busiek (Advisor: William Margolin, Ph.D.)
The role of FtsA / FtsN interaction during Escherichia coli cell division
Investigation of bacterial cell division proteins is important in the search for novel antimicrobial targets. At present, nearly a dozen essential cell division proteins have been identified in the model bacterium Escherichia coli. These proteins comprise a division machine or “divisome” that assembles at midcell into a ring-shaped structure during cell division. Although the essential cell division protein and actin homologue FtsA localizes to division sites early, we found that FtsA interacts directly with the essential “late” localizing protein FtsN. Recently, my research also discovered that the interaction between these proteins appears to facilitate proper localization of FtsN. Together, these results 1) represent the first biochemical evidence of interaction between essential early and late cell division proteins and 2) provide an explanation for early-late cell division protein interactions.

Sarah Eagleman (Advisor: Valentin Dragoi, Ph.D.)
Effects of resting state on network processing during perceptual learning
The acquisition of new knowledge is facilitated by a night of sleep or an afternoon nap. From the point of view of brain research, it is unclear how that improvement takes place. In recent years, investigations have changed the definition of sleep: it appears to be not a global but a local phenomenon, and sleep-like brain activity can occur not only at night but also when someone is awake. Such findings call for a careful examination at the level of individual neurons and local networks, with the hope of determining the influence of sleep on learning and memory. My work explores changes in network activity that may underlie the behavioral improvement observed following brief periods of rest.

Brittany Parker (Advisor: Wei Zhang, Ph.D.)
The tumorigenic fusion FGFR3-TACC3 escapes microRNA regulation in glioblastoma
Fusion genes are chromosomal anomalies that are found in many cancers and are valuable because they can serve as both prognostic markers and drug targets in clinical practice.  Fusion genes can escape microRNA regulation. Because patients diagnosed with high-grade brain tumor, glioblastoma (GBM), elicit a median survival rate of 14 months following diagnosis, a more combative treatment strategy is desperately needed. Our lab sought to determine whether fusion genes existed in GBM, and found that fusion positive GBM patients may benefit from targeted therapy.

Daniel Robertson (Advisor: Sam Beddar, Ph.D.)
A liquid scintillator-based approach to 3D dosimetry for IMPT
Radiation therapy technology for cancer treatment has advanced rapidly in recent years, and the complexity of treatments has skyrocketed in the pursuit of higher radiation doses to tumors and decreased damage to healthy tissues. The main objective of my research is to develop fast, high-resolution, 3D radiation detectors based on liquid scintillators. (Scintillators convert the energy from x-rays and proton beams into visible light.) I have designed and characterized an improved scintillator detector and developed methods to convert the measured scintillation light into appropriately scaled radiation dose values. I am currently developing procedures for applying this new detector to clinical quality assurance tasks at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.