Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

Fabio Triolo, D.d.R, MPhil, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor,
Program in Regenerative Medicine
Director cGMP Facilities,
Department of Pediatric Surgery

Danielle Garsin, Ph.D.,
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
“Inter-kingdom microbial interactions and new ideas for anti-infective development”

Dr. Garsin is a professor in the Medical School Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at McGovern Medical School. Dr. Garsin came to UTHealth as an assistant professor in 2004 following a postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. She earned her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at Harvard University and her B.S. in Biological Sciences at Cornell University.

Dr. Garsin is at heart a bacterial geneticist, and this foundation supports her interests in bacterial pathogenesis, gene regulation, and host-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions. Her studies are centered on the biology of the human bacterial pathogen, Enterococcus faecalis. One NIH-funded research focus is on the post-initiation mechanisms of gene regulation in E. faecalis. Another is on the biology of reactive oxygen species in the immune response elicited in the model host Caenorhabditis elegans. Finally, Dr. Garsin is developing a new project studying the interactions between E. faecalis and the human fungal pathogen, Candida albicans.  She and her collaborators discovered that the microbes inhibit each other’s virulence leading to the identification of compounds with potential for anti-infective therapeutic development.

Dr. Garsin has received many commendations for excellence in research and education. In 2004, she received an Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar Award in Global Infectious Disease and was a finalist in 2008 for Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease. Also in 2008, she was awarded a UT Young Investigator award. She was the recipient of the Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2009 and 2012. Dr. Garsin is currently an associate editor of PLOS Genetics and a permanent member of the Prokaryotic Cell and Molecular Biology (PCMB) NIH review group.

Zheng Chen, Ph.D.,
Associate Professor
Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology,
“Circadian mechanism and intervention against metabolic disease and aging”

Zheng (Jake) Chen is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Dr. Chen received his B.S. in Biological Sciences at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and conducted his graduate research under the tutelage of Jim Manley at Columbia University in New York. His Ph.D. thesis, on the subject of gene expression and transcription cofactors, was selected as Dissertation with Distinction. Dr. Chen subsequently received postdoctoral training with Steve McKnight at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where he investigated cellular functions of biological rhythms, first in yeast and later in mammals.

In 2009, Dr. Chen started his own lab in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at McGovern Medical School. His laboratory mainly focuses on mammalian circadian clocks, using an integrative approach combining high throughput chemical screening, molecular and cellular approaches, circadian and disease mouse models, as well as 0mics technologies. Dr. Chen’s work has revealed important insight into the function and mechanism of biological clocks in metabolic disease and aging, and identified small molecules, both synthetic and natural, as attractive drug candidates to modify or enhance circadian systems, thereby promoting health and delay aging. Current research in his lab aims to both broaden biomedical impact by examining new disease targets and to deepen mechanistic understanding at molecular and genomic levels. Dr. Chen’s research has been funded by federal agencies, private foundations as well as industrial partners. Dr. Chen is active in the research community, serving as grant and manuscript reviewer, seminar speaker and conference organizer. At UTHealth, McGovern Medical School and GSBS, Dr. Chen is highly committed to various teaching and mentoring activities, and recently received McGovern Medical School Dean’s Teaching Excellence Award. Dr. Chen also enjoys serving on numerous committees at the department, school and university levels.

John Hancock, MA, MB, BChir, Ph.D., ScD, MRCP (UK), FRACP., 
Professor, Chair, Vice Dean for Basic Research, Executive Director
Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine
“Ras and the plasma membrane: A complicated relationship”

Dr. Hancock read natural sciences and medicine at the University of Cambridge, UK before embarking on the US equivalent of internal medicine and then hematology / oncology residency programs for 6 years at major London teaching hospitals. He started his scientific training in 1986 as an MRC Research Fellow at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, from where he received his PhD.  In 1989 Dr. Hancock set up his first research laboratory at the Royal Free Hospital, London where he also practiced as a consultant hematologist until leaving the UK in 1992. After spending 2 years at Onyx Pharmaceuticals in California and 15 years as Professor at the University of Queensland in Australia he joined UTHealth in 2008. He is chairman of the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, executive director, of the Brown Foundation Institute for Molecular Medicine, and is John S. Dunn Distinguished University Chair in Physiology and Medicine. In 2013 Dr. Hancock was awarded an ScD from the University of Cambridge.

Dr. Hancock is internationally recognized for his research on Ras proteins, which are small guanine nucleotide binding proteins that operate as molecular switches in cell signaling networks. Ras is among the most intensively studied signaling proteins because of its oncogenic role in ~15% of all human tumors. His research discoveries have had major impacts in the fields of cell signaling, membrane biophysics and systems biology. His work has consistently challenged entrenched dogmas and established new paradigms for Ras function. He has published more than 160 papers in the highest impact journals that have collectively been cited more than 20,000 times. He receives frequent invitations to present his work at major national and international meetings in the USA, Japan and Europe. Major themes of Dr. Hancock’s work are to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning Ras plasma membrane binding, how interactions with plasma membrane lipids spatially organize Ras on the nanoscale to deliver novel signaling properties and translation of these findings into drug discovery programs.