STARs align with new awards to Medical School

By Darla Brown, Office of Communications

2022 STARs Awards

The STARs are shining bright this fiscal year, with four recent awards to McGovern Medical School from the UT System Board of Regents’ Faculty Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) Program.

Rising STARs awards have been granted to Juneyoung Lee, PhD; Keran Ma, PhD; and Rodney Ritzel, PhD. Vasanthi, Jayaraman, PhD, received a Translational STARs award.

The Board of Regents created the program 2004 to help UT institutions attract and retain outstanding faculty. Awards, which can be used to purchase equipment and renovate facilities, require institutional support and are available to support the recruitment and retention of tenure-track faculty members at any rank.

Juneyoung Lee, PhD - STARs Award
Juneyoung Lee, PhD

Lee, assistant professor of neurology, completed his doctoral work in computational biology and medical science at The University of Tokyo. Upon receiving his doctorate, he continued his training as a postdoctoral research fellow in the BRAINS (Brain, Rejuvenation, Aging, Inflammation Neurodegeneration Stroke) Research Laboratory at McGovern Medical School, which was established by Louise McCullough, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Neurology and Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Distinguished Chair.

This STARs award will provide Lee with the necessary equipment to perform single-cell sequencing and provide recognition of the novel program he will build focused on the gut-brain axis.

His research has found that age-related gut dysbiosis can trigger systemic inflammation, thereby modulating host inflammatory pathways. He has further shown that rejuvenating the microbiome can improve recovery after experimental stroke and can slow progression in animal models of neurodegenerative disease.

Keran Ma, PhD - STARs Award
Keran Ma, PhD

Ma, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy, joined McGovern Medical School June 1, from the University of California, San Francisco, where she was a staff scientist. Her area of research is neurodegenerative diseases, especially Alzheimer’s.

Her recent studies demonstrated that Alzheimer’s disease alters brain oscillatory activities, network synchrony, and causes seizures.  The long-term goal of her research is to identify these mechanisms to provide a deeper understanding of Alzheimer’s disease-associated cognitive impairments and identify targets for therapy development.

Rodney Ritzel, PhD - STARs Award
Rodney Ritzel, PhD

Ritzel, PhD, joined the Department of Neurology as an assistant professor May 2, from the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was a postdoctoral fellow. His research explores how brain injury accelerates immune aging, chronic inflammation, and age-related pathologies, including dementia

With unique training background in both immunology and neuroscience, Ritzel is the recipient of a NIH K99/R00 award. He earned his doctoral degree in neuroscience from the University of Connecticut and has published 38 peer-reviewed scientific articles with 16 as first/co-author.

Vasanthi, Jayaraman, PhD - STARs Award
Vasanthi, Jayaraman, PhD

Jayaraman, the John S. Dunn Chair in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, is an internationally recognized leader in the field of structural and functional investigations of neurotransmitter receptors. These proteins are implicated in learning and memory as well as in several neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and ALS. She aims to understand the mechanism of ligand-activated channel gating in these proteins, thus providing a foundation for developing drugs that can then modulate these proteins and be used in treating neurological disorders.

Jayaraman has maintained continuous federal funding since 2000 as a principal investigator and she is the recipient of the 2017 UT Regents Outstanding Teacher Award. She earned her doctorate from Princeton University and joined the Medical School faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology.

Her award will be used to purchase equipment to expand her research program on the structure and function of neurotransmitter receptors to other target proteins and to translate her fundamental research into understanding changes at the level of brain networks.