Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

Sonia Robazetti, M.D., CCRC
Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences
Chair, Breakthrough Discovery Symposium I

A physician by training, Dr. Sonia Carolina Robazetti, originally hails from Venezuela. She is currently an assistant professor of OB/GYN at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Dr. Robazetti has dedicated her career to research, especially in the field of cervical cancer and human papillomavirus. Her personal purpose was helping disadvantaged women get free cervical and breast cancer screening and organizing health screening events in Houston. Under her direction, over 4000 women were screened for Cervical and Breast Cancer. Her contribution led to several funded grants for her team. She was the chair of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and served on the Board of Directors of the College of American Pathology Foundation. She was recently promoted to a new position at The Fetal Center as a part of the Marketing and Outreach program.


Lillian Kao, M.D., MS
Division Chief, Acute Care Surgery
Jack H. Mayfield, Chair in Surgery
Vice Chair for Quality
Department of Surgery
“C-STEP: Stepping up the training of future clinician-scientists” 

Lillian Kao, M.D., M.S. is Professor and Division Chief of Acute Care Surgery at McGovern Medical School. She holds an endowed chair – Jack H. Mayfield, MD, Chair in Surgery – and is Vice Chair for Quality for the Department of Surgery. She is faculty for the Masters Program in Clinical Research at UTHealth, and she is the co-founder and co-director for the Center for Surgical Trials and Evidence-based Practice (C-STEP). She has previously been funded by a NIH K23 award and Robert Wood Johnson Physician Faculty Scholar Award, and she is/has been a site PI for a number of multi-center PCORI and DOD trials in surgery. She is or has been a mentor to multiple junior faculty with career development awards. Dr. Kao is also active in a number of national organizations – she is a past president of the Association for Academic Surgery and the current Quality Pillar Lead and Vice-Chair for the American College of Surgeons Board of Governors. She is the social media editor and a deputy editor for the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, and she sits on five other journal editorial boards. Dr. Kao’s interests include comparative effectiveness trials, dissemination and implementation research, and development of a learning healthcare system and learning healthcare scholars.

Yi-Ping Li, Ph.D.
Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology
“Deciphering the signaling mechanisms of cancer cachexia”

Dr. Yi-Ping Li is a Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology at McGovern Medical School. He is a native of Shanghai, China, where he obtained his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. He then moved to Texas and obtained a Ph.D. in Pharmacology at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and received postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.  Subsequently, he joined Baylor College of Medicine as a junior faculty and later established his own laboratory.  He was recruited to UTHealth in 2009. His research has been continuously supported by NIH for the last 20 years, with 8 R01 grants and one R21 grant. Dr. Li’s research focuses on striated muscle remodeling in diseases, including cancer cachexia. Cancer cachexia is a wasting syndrome occurring in more than 50% of cancer patients that features a weakening and loss of muscle mass and is a major determinant of cancer mortality.  Its etiology is not defined and there is no established treatment. Dr. Li’s lab has made seminal discoveries in the pathogenesis of cancer cachexia, allowing the design of new therapies for cancer cachexia.

Rodrigo Morales, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Neurology
“Prions and amyloids: Common features and newly identified properties”

Dr. Rodrigo Morales received his Ph.D. from the University of Chile in 2009 and performed postdoctoral studies in prion and Alzheimer’s diseases at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He was appointed as Assistant Professor at the Department of Neurology at UTHealth in 2012 and Associate Professor in 2018. His past and current research interests involve the prion-like transmission of amyloid-beta and tau proteins in Alzheimer’s disease, the role of peripheral factors including liver damage and microbial infection in Alzheimer’s disease, the mechanism of spread involving Chronic Wasting Disease (a prion disease of cervids), and the interaction of misfolded proteins as a disease mechanism. Dr. Morales has published more than 60 articles in these areas, and is directing several programs funded by the NIH, the USDA, and other private agencies.