Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

Rodrigo Morales, Ph.D.
Department of Neurology
Chair, Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

Dr. Rodrigo Morales is an Associate Professor in the department of neurology.  He has extensive experience in the field of protein misfolding diseases, specifically in prions and Alzheimer’s diseases and significant experience in protein biochemistry and animal pathology. His research involves the strain and species barrier phenomena in prion diseases, the prion-like nature of Aβ aggregates in Alzheimer’s disease, and the pathological interaction between amyloidogenic proteins.

Rachel Sirianni, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Neurosurgery
Breaking barriers in central nervous system drug delivery” 

Dr. Rachael Sirianni received her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Yale University in 2008 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Diagnostic Radiology at the Yale School of Medicine in 2011. Following her first faculty appointment at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Dr. Sirianni moved her laboratory to UTHealth, where she is now an Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of Neurosurgery. Dr. Sirianni’s group is dedicated to the use of biomaterials for treatment of central nervous system disease, and her laboratory here has recently focused on developing new clinical trials for better treatment of pediatric brain tumors at the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. Dr. Sirianni’s group balances preclinical and translational work in close collaboration with academic and industry partners to develop new therapies in oncology, neuroprotection, and brain injury. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including recognition by the Women’s Faculty Forum at UTHealth with the Rising Star of Excellence award in 2019, as well as recognition by field societies and private foundations for impactful research. She is a standing member of NIH study section, co-editor of the book “Targeted Drug Delivery” published by Springer-Humana press, and inventor on four issued patents. Dr. Sirianni is deeply invested in mentorship and has directly trained over 70 individuals with major grant support from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and National Science Foundation. Her group’s primary interests include nanoparticle formulation, drug delivery across the blood brain barrier, tissue engineering the subarachnoid space, and intrathecal drug delivery.

J. Christian Perez, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
“Fungi of the human gut microbiota: Roles and significance”

Dr. J. Christian Perez is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at McGovern Medical School. He received his Ph.D. degree in Molecular Genetics and Genomics at Washington University in St. Louis, studying mechanisms of gene regulation in enteric bacteria. Dr. Pérez started investigating human fungal pathogens during his postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco. He then moved to Germany to establish his own laboratory at the University Hospital Wuerzburg. Dr. Pérez joined the faculty at UTHealth in November 2020. His laboratory seeks to understand the interplay between mammalian host and Candida albicans, a ubiquitous fungus of humans that inhabits the gastrointestinal tract but that also causes thousands of disseminated, life-threatening infections in the United States every year.

Anilkumar Pillai, Ph.D.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
“Complement system, stress and neurobehavior”

Anilkumar Pillai, Ph.D., is a Professor, the Louis A. Faillace Chair in Psychiatry, and Director of the Pathophysiology of Neuropsychiatric Disorders Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He is also a translational neuroscience researcher with a longstanding research program geared toward understanding the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disorders that could lead to the development of novel treatment strategies. His current research aims at understanding the mechanisms of complement immune activation in depression and suicide. His laboratory uses in vitro cell culture models, animal models, and human postmortem brain and peripheral tissues. He is the recipient of several federal and non-federal grants and contracts, including current and active awards from NIH and the Department of Veteran Affairs. He serves on grant review committees, NIH study sections, and journal editorial boards. He is a well-published author, co-author of more than 80 peer-reviewed publications, several book chapters, and abstracts. Pillai is an elected member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology. He has an extensive record of training graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty.