Medical student receives HHMI support for research

By Lin Lofley

Austin Moore, a UT Southwestern Medical School student who will complete his third-year rotations in June
Austin Moore

Austin Moore, a UT Southwestern Medical School student who will complete his third-year rotations in June, has been awarded a Medical Research Fellowship by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Mr. Moore, who earned a degree in biology at UT Austin before being accepted into Medical School, will conduct research in the upcoming academic year in the laboratory of Dr. Hao Zhu, Assistant Professor in the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, of Pediatrics, and of Internal Medicine.

The HHMI program provides each medical fellow with $43,000 in grant support to study an area of his or her interest. Participating fellows also are eligible to apply for a second year of funding in the program.

“I really cannot thank the HHMI program enough for this incredible opportunity,” Mr. Moore said. “I owe a long list of mentors so much, and they have helped me every step along the way. I feel so honored to have been selected.”

Dr. Reeni Abraham, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Co-Director of the Internal Medicine Clerkship, said, “Austin is a rare all-around student and an ideal researcher. His impressive curiosity, solid foundation of knowledge, and mature ability to connect with people will make him an outstanding clinician.”

Mr. Moore, an Austin native who recently finished a surgery rotation, is interested in specializing in pediatrics or pediatric oncology, “but I don’t want to be tied down to a decision right now,” he said.

“Our research will look at genes thought to be connected to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and the ways in which this condition progresses to liver cancer. The hope is that this will give us a better understanding of the pathology involved in both of these illnesses,” Mr. Moore said.

The research path has been attractive to him for some time.

“From an early age, I was fascinated with science and medicine,” he said with a smile. “When I was a fifth-grader, someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I answered, ‘a pediatrician.’”

Mr. Moore also thanked Dr. Stephen Skapek, Professor of Pediatrics and in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, and Dr. Rene Galindo, Associate Dean for Medical Student Research and Associate Professor of Pathology, of Molecular Biology, and of Pediatrics, for their support. The former previously hosted Mr. Moore’s research in his lab, and the latter is the go-to contact for medical students who want to discuss their research with a faculty mentor.

Mr. Moore will finish his MS3 rotations at the end of June, then take a month to study for the STEP 2 exams, before settling into Dr. Zhu’s North Campus lab.

“As soon as I met him, I knew that Austin had caught the research bug,” Dr. Zhu said. “He can’t help but get in the lab and inquire about things that are currently unknown to medicine. This is the perfect program for him, and it is one that could change the course of his career.

“When I was a student, I was fortunate enough to benefit from the same HHMI Fellowship, and I hope it will also inspire him and put him on course to becoming a physician-scientist.”

Now in its 28th year, the HHMI Medical Research Fellow Program selected 79 medical and veterinary students for 2017-2018. To date, the program has helped more than 1,700 students, including dental students, into the world of research.

Dr. Skapek holds the Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research.