Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

Theresa Koehler, Ph.D.
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Chair, Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

Dr. Koehler, Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, came to McGovern Medical School as an assistant professor in 1991 following a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Her NIH-funded research program focuses on the genetics, physiology, and virulence of Bacillus anthracis and she is an internationally recognized anthrax expert. Dr. Koehler has received many commendations and awards for excellence in research and graduate education. She is an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the science and profession of microbiology. She was awarded the Paul E. Darlington Award from the University of Texas Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences for outstanding mentoring of graduate students. Dr. Koehler has served on multiple NIH study sections, including as chair of the Bacterial Pathogenesis study section. She has served on several advisory boards for state and federal science committees, including the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. Dr. Koehler is an Associate Editor of PLoS Pathogens and has served on the editorial board of multiple other journals. She has chaired multiple national and international scientific conferences.

Nitin Tandon, M.D.
Department of Neurosurgery
“Insights into language from cortical recordings” 

Dr. Tandon is a Professor of Neurosurgery at UTHealth and Director of the Epilepsy Surgery Program at Memorial Hermann Hospital. His lab focuses on the study of cognitive functions using imaging and invasive electrophysiology. Dr. Tandon is particularly interested in higher cognitive functions, including language, memory and executive control. Major research initiatives, funded by NIH U01 and R01 grants, focus on the understanding of human language using a multimodal approach that combines intracranial electroencephalography (icEEG), cortical stimulation, fMRI and tractography. Recent focus has been on developing optimal tools that facilitate high-end analyses of human icEEG data during a variety of cognitive processes, and the development of optimized analytic and representational techniques. Insights into how language is produced, using this approach, promises to provide transformative insights into this core human capacity. Other work on neural processing during cognitive control, spatial navigation and episodic memory has had substantial impact on the field and on our understanding of normal cognition as well as altered neurophysiology in the epileptic brain. Dr. Tandon’s integration of clinical and basic research has led to the establishment of the Texas Institute for Restorative Neurotechnologies (TIRN), which promises to bring new insights and developments to epilepsy research and therapies.

Qingchun Tong, Ph.D.
Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Disease
Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine
“Genetic dissection of brain dysfunction in obesity development”

Dr. Tong received his PhD in Neural and Behavioral Sciences at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in 2003 and his Postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School where he initiated a new line of research to examine the role of fast-acting neurotransmitters in the brain in controlling feeding and metabolism. He started his own lab at the Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM) of McGovern Medical School in 2009 and is currently an Associate Professor and the holder of Cullen Chair in Molecular Medicine. Here at McGovern, Dr. Tong uses mouse genetics in combination with optogenetics, chemogenetics and in vivo Ca2+ imaging to map novel neurocircuits in feeding and related behaviors and reveal brain dysfunction in eating abnormality and obesity development. His research has contributed significantly to the brain mechanism on homeostatic regulation on feeding and obesity as well as glucose homeostasis. His group has recently identified a previously unknown neural pathway that underlies both feeding and emotional states, providing a neural basis for co-morbidity between eating disorders and psychiatric disorders. The goal of his research is to provide a mechanistic insight on brain neurons and neurocircuits in feeding and metabolism, and identify potential targets for effective treatment against obesity and eating abnormalities.


Ali J. Marian, M.D.
Professor and Director
Center for Cardiovascular Genetic Research
George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation
James T. Willerson, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Cardiovascular Research
“Double-stranded DNA breaks and genomic reorganization in the pathogenesis and treatment of heart failure”

Dr. Marian received his training in clinical cardiology and human molecular genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. He was appointed as a faculty at the Section of Cardiology at Baylor College of Medicine in 1992. He was recruited to the Institute of Molecular Medicine to lead the Center for Cardiovascular Genetics in 2006.

Dr. Marian is recognized for his research achievements in molecular genetics and clinical aspects of cardiomyopathies. He received the Young Investigator Award from the American College of Cardiology, the Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association, the Clinician-Scientist Award in Translational Research from Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Distinguished Scientist Award from Baylor St Luke’s Medical Center, and the Best Editor Award from the American Heart Association Circulation Research.

Dr. Marian is currently an Associate Editor for Cardiovascular Research, Section Editor on Genetics for Current Opinion in Cardiology and Section Editor on Genetics and Genomics for Current Atherosclerosis Reports. He is a former Deputy Editor for Circulation Research, former Associate Editor for Circulation and European Journal of Clinical Investigation. Dr. Marian’s research is supported by grants from NHLBI-NIH, Leducq Foundation Trans-Atlantic Network of Excellence and local foundations.