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2024 GSBS Distinguished Alumnus


John R. Harper, PhD

Distinguished Alumni Award - Previous Winners

Recipients are listed below with their notable accomplishments

2024     John R. Harper
1981/Ph.D./Biochemistry & Molecular Biology/Antonio Orengo
Dr. Harper is Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President, Research and Product Development and Medical Affairs, MIMEDX Group in Marietta, Georgia. He completed post-doctoral fellowships in cancer biochemistry and cell biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, and the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. His 35-year career has been devoted to wound healing and regenerative medicine. During his career, he has been instrumental in developing innovative approaches to breast reconstruction and abdominal wall repair working closely with both plastic and general surgeons. He began his current role at the MIMEDX GROUP in Marietta, GA as Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President of Research and Product Development in June 2021. Dr. Harper also leads the company’s Medical Affairs and Medical Education functions.
Just Just prior to joining MIMEDX, he served as a Senior Medical Scientist in the Medical Solutions Division of 3M Health Care and Chief Technology Officer for 3M affiliate Kinetic Concepts, where he was responsible for all early-stage research, innovation, and technology development, as well as the study of mechanisms of action of the company’s negative pressure wound care technology. During his tenure at KCI, Dr. Harper also spent time leading the company’s Clinical Development and Regulatory Affairs organization. Prior to becoming part of KCI, he served as Vice President of Clinical Development and Clinical Sciences at the biotechnology company LifeCell Corporation, the previous Regenerative Medicine division of Acelity and the leader in acellular scaffold technology and makers of AlloDerm, Strattice, and GraftJacket Regenerative and Reconstructive Tissue Matrices. Dr. Harper has over 50 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters and his principal areas of research interest are extracellular matrix biochemistry, tissue regeneration, and wound healing. His external activities include currently serving as a member of the Board of Directors of The American College of Wound Healing and Tissue Repair, Kent Imaging, and Nanomedic Technologies. He credits his success largely to the UTHealth Houston MD Anderson Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the field of plastic surgery. As a way of giving back, he has established two endowed fellowships, the Dr. John R. and Rebekah Harper Fellowship in Biomedical Sciences at UTHealth Houston (GSBS), and the John R. Harper, PhD, Fellowship in Plastic Surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

2023     David Cooper
1998/Ph.D./Immunology/Neal Pellis
Dr. Cooper is Vice President & Head of High-throughput Clinical Immunoassays & Diagnostics (HCID) within Vaccine R&D at Pfizer’s Pearl River, New York campus. David leads a diverse team of 350+ scientists tasked with validation of clinical immunogenicity and diagnostic assays, and their use in supporting key clinical trial endpoints. David and his team directly support the clinical development of all of Pfizer’s vaccine candidates and were instrumental in the successful development of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty. David joined Pfizer (Wyeth) in 2000 as a Senior Research Scientist in the Vaccine R&D organization. For over 22 years, he has taken on successively impactful roles in discovery research, assay development, and clinical research. His breadth of experience spans vaccine development for HIV, HPV, pneumococcal, chlamydia, meningitis, Staph aureus, RSV and most recently Flu and COVID-19. Of note, David was instrumental in the development and licensure of Prevnar 13 (pneumococcal vaccine) for infant and adult indications, Trumenba (Group B meningococcal vaccine) for adolescents, Prevnar 20 (expanded serotype pneumococcal vaccine) for adults, and Comirnaty (COVID-19 vaccine). David’s contributions continue with his team recently delivering phase-3 clinical results that have led to regulatory filings for approval of Prevnar 20 in infants, Pentavalent Meningococcal vaccine for adolescents, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) vaccines in both maternal and older-adult indications. He has co-authored over 45 journal publications and is an inventor on a composition of matter patent for Pfizer's pneumococcal vaccine. 

2021-2022     Rena N. D'Souza
1987/Ph.D./Molecular Pathology/Barnet Levy
Dr. Rena D’Souza is the director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. She oversees NIDCR’s annual budget of more than $475 million, which supports basic, translational, and clinical research in areas of oral cancer, orofacial pain, tooth decay, periodontal disease, salivary gland dysfunction, craniofacial development and disorders and the oral complications of systemic diseases. A licensed dentist, Dr. D’Souza is recognized for her research in craniofacial development, genetics, tooth development, and regenerative dental medicine. Prior to joining NIH, Dr. D’Souza was the assistant vice president for academic affairs and education for health sciences at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. There she also served as a professor of dentistry, the Ole and Marty Jensen chair of the School of Dentistry and professor of neurobiology and anatomy, pathology and surgery in the School of Medicine and the department of biomedical engineering. In 2012, Dr. D’Souza was selected to be the inaugural dean of the University of Utah’s School of Dentistry. She is a devoted mentor and champion of diversity in the biomedical research workforce. Since 1985, she has served as a volunteer dentist for women in need and people struggling with homelessness in Salt Lake City, Dallas and Houston. 

2019-2020     Matthew R. Lewin
1999/M.D., Ph.D./Neuroscience/Edgar T. Walters
Dr. Matthew Lewin is an emergency physician, neuroscientist and veteran expedition doctor and is the founder of the Center for Exploration and Travel Health and Snakebite Project at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco as well as the Public Benefit Corporation, Ophirex, Inc. Dr. Lewin and Ophirex are currently focused on research to develop field treatments for snakebite to fill the gap between snakebite and hospital, where more than 75% of deaths occur, but for which there are no drugs available. Ophirex, Inc. is committed to providing low-cost antidotes to the developing world so that treatment for any snakebite can begin anywhere, anytime, by anyone – with no special knowledge. The potential to have a positive effect on patient care and public health policy in response to this ancient scourge drives the researchers in this program. Dr. Lewin is a life-member of the Wilderness Medicine Society and in 2010 became a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians in recognition of his academic accomplishments in the field. He continues to mentor UCSF students in the Global Health Sciences Masters Program at UCSF and is the recipient of the 2017 John L. Ziegler Award for Outstanding Mentorship in Global Health Sciences.

2018-2019     Dan Graur
1985/Ph.D./Human & Molecular Genetics/Masatoshi Nei
Graur received his PhD in Population Genetics in 1985 and his advisor was Masatoshi Nei, PhD. Before studying at the Graduate School, Graur obtained a bachelor’s in biology (1978) and master’s in zoology (1980) from Tel Aviv University. After graduating from the GSBS, he did his postdoctoral studies at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany. Today, Graur is the Moores Professor in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry at University of Houston and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, Israel. His research interests consist of computational, statistical, and analytical aspects of gene and genome evolution, in particular assessing the relative contributions of mutation, selection, and random genetic drift to the genetic makeup of organisms. “I arrived in Houston on a proverbial ‘dark and stormy night’ in October 1980, said Graur. “I was armed with the impertinence of youth and a master thesis on insect mating behavior. I left five years later armed with a great amount of information, a modicum of knowledge, a smidgen of wisdom, and all the necessary tools to start a career researching DNA evolution. I am forever thankful to my teachers at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences for instilling in me clarity of thought, scientific independence, and ethical rigor.”

2017-2018   David Voehringer
1995/M.S./Radiation Biology/1998/Ph.D./Cancer Biology/Raymond Meyn
Voehringer has a proven track record of success in both industry and academia with over 50 publications. As a founding member of ProteinSimple (now a division of Bio-Techne), he was part of a team that built a unique protein analysis business from scratch that was successfully sold for $330M. Over 12 years he made significant contributions to a revolutionary technology that modernized the Western Blot method and grew ProteinSimple from $0 to $60M in revenue. Taking on the roles of managing the research team, directing the marketing and business development efforts early in the technology roll-out, and ultimately building and spearheading an international sales teams, Voehringer gained a wealth of experience as a small startup successfully transitions to a market force.

2016-2017   David F. Smith
1972/Ph.D./Biochemistry & Molecular Biology/Earl Walborg
Enamored with the beauty of the stereochemistry of structural carbohydrates and the mystery of their function, Smith did not follow the major research path of biochemistry to molecular and cell biology, but instead entered the field of glycobiology or Glycomics, which is the study of the structure, function and biology of glycans (carbohydrates) that are widely distributed in nature.  He is professor of biochemistry and director of the Emory Comprehensive Glycomics Core at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

2015   Pu (Paul) Liu
1991/Ph.D./Human & Molecular Genetics/Michael Siciliano
Liu, M.D., Ph.D., received his medical degree and residency training in internal medicine in Beijing, China.  Liu has been head of the Oncogenesis and Development Section in NHGRI since 1995 and was appointed as the deputy scientific director in 2011. The main focus of Liu's research has been the mechanism of leukemia development at the molecular level, using genetic and genomic approaches.  Liu discovered that a CBFB-MYH11 fusion gene is the product of chromosome 16 inversion, a common chromosome abnormality in human acute myeloid leukemia. Liu's lab has focused on developing targeted treatments for leukemia.

2014   Dolores J. Lamb
1980/Ph.D./Biomedical Sciences/Barbara Sanborn
Lamb is the director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine;  The Lester and Sue Smith Chair in Urologic Research; the vice chair for research (Scott Department of Urology) and a professor in the Departments of Urology and Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine. She is an investigator in the fields of urology, male infertility, steroid hormone action, prostate cancer and genitourinary birth defects. Her experience is unique as she has an extensive background in both the clinical diagnostic and the basic science arenas in men’s health. 

2013   Super Panels - 50th Anniversary
Celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences with two Super Panels, showcasing seven alumni. 

2012   Steven R. Patierno
1985/Ph.D./Pharmacology/Max Costa
Patierno is internationally recognized as a leading expert in cancer causation and environmental carcinogenesis. His laboratory discovered the anti-cancer activity of a protein that is the subject of 10 U.S. patents and under commercial development by a bio-pharmaceutical company as a molecularly-targeted cancer therapeutic.   Dr. Patierno secures and implements many large, complex, biomedical and public health-related research grants and he is a formidable advocate for patient-centered and community-based grants in cancer disparities.

2011   E. Antonio Chiocca
1988/M.D., Ph.D./Molecular Biology/Joseph Stein
Chiocca is a practicing neurosurgeon who performs over 200 craniotomies per year, primarily in patients with glial tumors.  His research laboratory studies glial tumor biology and translational therapeutics with a central focus on the use of oncolytic viruses for glioma therapy. He has uncovered a viral mutant whose replicative cycle targets the p16 tumor-suppressor pathway and the host immune and micro-environmental responses that limit the efficacy of oncolytic virotherapy. 

2010   Catherine (Cathy) Wicklund
1993/M.S./Genetic Counseling/Jacqueline Hecht
Wicklund is the Director of the Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling at Northwestern University where she provides clinical genetic counseling and prenatal and pediatric genetic services. Wicklund serves on the Board of Directors of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and as president in 2008. She is an advocate, on the national level, for the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act and the recognition of genetic counselors as providers under the Social Security Act.

2009   John B. Simpson
1971/Ph.D./Reproductive Biology/John Hampton
Simpson designed and developed the first over-the-wire balloon catheter for heart surgery that is still in use today.  Currently a professor of clinical medicine at Stanford University, he is founder of Perclose (now an Abbott Laboratories company); the founder of LuMend, Inc. (now a Johnson & Johnson company); and the founder of Fox Hollow Technologies (recently merged with ev3 Inc.). 

2008  Danny R. Welch
1984/Ph.D./Tumor Biology/Garth Nicolson
Welch is an internationally recognized leader in the field of cancer metastasis, specifically in breast, melanoma, and pancreas cancers. Professor and founding chair of the department of cancer biology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, he is best known for his discovery of 8 of the ~30 known metastasis-suppressor genes. Dr. Welch and his associate, J. H. Lee, are inventors of and hold the international patent for KISS-1, a novel human melanoma metastasis-suppressor gene.

2007   Suzanne A. W. Fuqua
1982/Ph.D./Virology/Robert Naso
Fuqua is widely recognized for her pioneering work on hormonal resistance in breast cancer. Her lab identified variant estrogen receptors in breast cancer tissue which linked these mutations to hormone resistance and breast cancer progression by demonstrating their consequences in altering estrogen-binding and cell responsiveness in model systems.  Professor and SPORE grant director at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Fuqua has also made seminal observations about the role of heat shock proteins in breast cancer progression.  

2006   John J. Kopchick
1980/Ph.D./Virology/Ralph Arlinghaus
Kopchick is an internationally recognized leader in the growth hormone field.  In 1989, he and his group were the first to discover and characterize the molecular aspects of growth hormone antagonists, an accomplishment for which he and Ohio University (where he holds both an endowed professorship and chair) were awarded several U.S. and European patents.  He founded a company, Sensus, to apply his laboratory discovery to the development of a drug that has been evaluated in clinical trials for acromegaly (gigantism), a chronic disease caused by excessive secretion of the pituitary growth hormone.  The drug, Somavert, was approved by the in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, marketed by Pfizer, and partial royalty income rights licensed to a private equity firm. 

2005   Bhudatt Paliwal
1973/Ph.D./Medical Physics/Peter Almond 
Paliwal is a renowned medical physicist who has achieved significant work in radiation dosimetry and radiation imaging which encompass the use of CT and MRI in planning radiological treatment and the use of hyperthermia in cancer care. 

2004   Ronald S. Duman 
1984/Ph.D./Pharmacology/Sam Enna
In his landmark 1995 paper he discovers that antidepressants increase the gene expression of Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus. The results of his work led him to formulate the hypothesis that depression is caused by a decrease in hippocampal neurogenesis caused by elevated cortisol levels.  

2003    Eugene W. Gerner 
1974/Ph.D./Biophysics/Ronald Humphrey
Gerner is highly regarded for his work in gastro-intestinal cancer; currently professor, Departments of Dell Biology & Anatomy and Molecular Biophysics, and SPORE director in GI at the University of Arizona Health Science Center.  Dr. Gerner holds several patents related to the Modifiers of Genetic Risk Factors as Prognostic and Predictive Factors in Intestinal Cancer Prevention.

2002   Larry Deaven
1969/Ph.D./Cell Biology/T. Elton Stubblefield
As director of the Human Genome Center at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Deaven is known for leading the design and construction of the library framework for mapping the human genome.  He holds three international patents.

2001   Deborah Anderson
1976/Ph.D./Immunology/Bar Levy
Anderson is professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University.  She is most noted for her research in the areas of mucosal immunology and contraceptive and STD vaccine development. 

2000   Michael E. McClure
1970/Ph.D./Biochemistry/L.S. Hnilica
McClure is a leader in the research field of reproductive genetics and reproductive immunology. He played a major role in developing the science policy related to cloning. He is retired Chief, Organs and Systems Toxicology Branch Division of Extramural Research and Training, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH.

1998   Hugo A. Barrera-Saldana
1982/Ph.D./Molecular Biology/Grady Saunders
Barrera-Saldana is a specialist in Science and Technology Commercialization (IC² Institute-UT-Austin and ITESM, 1999). In Latin America he pioneered molecular diagnosis of several diseases, clinical trials on cancer gene therapy (prostate cancer), and internationally-competitive research on the regulation, evolution, dysfunction and biotechnological use of growth hormone genes. In 1988, with colleagues from Genentech, Inc. and the Universities of Texas and Washington, the team establishes the world record for the largest human gene manually sequenced. This accomplishment was considered evidence for the feasibility of the Human Genome Project.

1997   Aravinda Chakravarti
1979/Ph.D./Human & Molecular Genetics/Masatoshi Nei
Chakravarti's career follows the rise of human genetics and today focuses on the development and applications of molecular genetics, genomics and computational methods for identifying human disease genes through “genetic dissection.”  He is professor in the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics and Molecular Biology and Genetics; Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins University.

1996   Lawrence H. Thompson
1969/Ph.D./Radiation Biology/Herman Suit
Thompson's work includes significant research in DNA repair at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. 

1981   Robert E. Marc
1975/Ph.D./Neuroscience/Harry Sperling
Marc is professor of ophthalmology and physiology, University of Utah School of Medicine and president & CEO, Signature Immunologics Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah. He holds an endowed chair in ophthalmology & visual science and is Director of Research, at the John A. Moran Eye Center, Utah. The Marc laboratory has developed high-speed transmission electron microscope imaging with molecular tagging for brain and retinal mapping.