Breakthrough Discovery Symposium II

Kristin Eckel-Mahan,Ph.D.
Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine
Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases
Chair, Breakthrough Discovery Symposium II

Dr. Eckel-Mahan received her PhD from the University of Washington, Seattle, where she studied the mechanisms underlying the circadian activation of the ERK/MAPK pathway and the importance of this circadian activity for hippocampal learning and memory. Following the completion of her Ph.D, Kristin continued her scientific training at the University of California, Irvine, where she studied the mechanisms by which nutrients and metabolites control the circadian properties of the liver. In 2015, she joined the Institute of Molecular Medicine as an Assistant Professor in the Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases. Projects in the Eckel-Mahan lab center on the roles of the circadian (i.e. 24-hr.) clock in health and disease states.


Dung Fang Lee, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology
“Possibilities for patient-derived iPSCs in cancer modeling and targeted therapies”

Dr. Dung-Fang Lee is an Assistant Professor and CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology and a faculty member at the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine and the Center for Precision Health. He received his BS and MS degrees from National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, and his Ph.D. degree in Cancer Biology from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston. He completed his post-doctoral training at the Black Family Stem Cell Institute at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Dr. Lee is dedicated to understanding cancer pathological mechanisms using patient-specific iPSCs. Dr. Lee applied Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS; germline p53 mutation) and Hereditary Retinoblastoma (RB; germline RB1 mutation) patient-derived iPSCs to dissect mutant p53’s gain-of-functions and RB1 loss-of-functions, respectively. Using patient-derived iPSCs, Dr. Lee discovers novel pathological signaling triggered by either mutant p53’s gain-of-functions or RB1 loss-of-functions and provides future insights for clinical treatment strategies targeting p53-mutant or RB1-mutant cancers.

Dr. Lee’s research has been well recognized and published in journals such as Cell, Cell Stem Cell, Mol Cell, Cancer Cell, Cell Rep, Nature, Nat Cell Biol, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, and PLoS Genet. He also received many honors during his research careers such as NYSCF-Druckenmiller Fellowship, K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award, CPRIT Recruitment Award, and Reprogramming Star.

Allison Speer, M.D., FACS, FAAP
Assistant Professor
Department of Pediatric Surgery
“Regeneration of a functional intestine for children with intestinal failure”

Dr. Allison Speer is an Assistant Professor at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) in the Department of Pediatric Surgery.  She was accepted into the Baccalaureate/MD program and awarded a presidential scholarship to attend the University of Southern California (USC) as an undergraduate.  Dr. Speer graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and received a medical degree from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.  She completed her general surgery residency at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA.  During residency, she completed a 3-year research fellowship investigating tissue-engineered intestine as a solution for short bowel syndrome at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in the laboratory of Dr. Tracy Grikscheit, a pediatric surgeon.  After residency, she completed a fellowship in Pediatric Surgery at Children’s National Medical Center/George Washington University in Washington, D.C.  Dr. Speer is certified in Surgery and Pediatric Surgery by the American Board of Surgery.

Dr. Speer’s clinical interests include intestinal failure and rehabilitation, advanced minimally invasive surgery, and thoracic/foregut surgery.  She is the Surgical Director of the Short bowel syndrome Therapy and Rehabilitation (STAR) program at UTHealth and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. She is also an NIH-funded basic-translational scientist focused on developing novel regenerative medicine strategies for intestinal failure such as tissue-engineered intestine and cell-based therapies.  Dr. Speer is passionate about education and mentorship and has received several research and teaching awards.  She enjoys mentoring at all levels, but particularly future surgeon-scientists.


Xiaoyi Yuan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Anesthesiology
“HIF-dependent induction of alveolar miR-147 dampens SARS-CoV-2 immune evasion”

Xiaoyi Yuan, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). She obtained her Bachelor’s degree at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, and moved to Texas in 2009 where she obtained a Ph.D. in Immunology and postdoctoral training at Baylor College of Medicine. She was recruited to UTHealth in 2017 as a junior faculty and recently established her own laboratory in 2022. Her research focuses on the pathogenesis of mucosal inflammation, specifically the functional roles of microRNAs during pulmonary diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The recent COVID-19 pandemic sparked her interest in studying endogenous lung protective pathways as therapeutic targets during SARS-CoV-2 infection-associated ARDS. Dr. Yuan has received research funding from several scientific societies and foundations, including the American Thoracic Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and Francis Family Foundation. She is currently the Principal Investigator of an R01 award from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to investigate how microRNAs control immune cell metabolic reprogramming during ARDS.