President's Research Council names Bharucha, Elias 2009 award winners

By Erin Prather Stafford


The President’s Research Council has selected two outstanding UT Southwestern investigators as recipients of its 2009 Distinguished Young Researcher Award.

Dr. Carol Elias, assistant professor of internal medicine, and Dr. Kamal Bharucha, assistant professor of pediatrics and pharmacology, each received a $75,000 award at the council’s annual dinner May 12.

Dr. Carol Elias

Dr. Elias is investigating how the brain integrates nutritional and reproductive cues to regulate many aspects of reproductive physiology. Studies in mammals have shown that a minimum amount of stored energy is required to maintain balance in the reproductive system.

“When survival is threatened by a scarcity of food or increased energy demands, males and females of most species divert energy away from reproduction,” Dr. Elias said. “This includes sexual maturation, the production of reproductive hormones and the maintenance of pregnancy and lactation.”

In humans, anorexia, cachexia and excessive exercise can all result in abnormal reproductive cycles and infertility. Obesity and diabetes can affect fertility as well. Dr. Elias’ research aims to further the understanding and treatment of reproductive deficits caused by metabolic dysfunctions.

“I would first like to thank Dr. Joel Elmquist, whom I worked with in Boston 10 years ago,” Dr. Elias told members of the PRC. “In 2005, I was planning to come to the U.S. on a sabbatical, and I called him. He encouraged me to come to his lab and work with his group. Later he sent me a message saying that I would have to come to Dallas because that was where he was moving to. I knew Boston, but I did not know what to expect from Dallas.

“The message arrived on my birthday. Then I thought, ‘It has to be a present of some sort.’ Now I consider that every day is a present in Dallas. It is a present to work in his great group and in the wonderful environment that UT Southwestern is. This award was the most unexpected present. I acknowledge the kindness and generosity of PRC members.”

Dr. Elias earned a doctorate in neuroscience and a master’s degree in anatomy from the University of Sao Paulo, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Campinas in Brazil, and she completed her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. She joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2008.

Dr. Bharucha’s research focuses on the control of glucose and lipid metabolism, as well as the regulation of hunger and food-seeking behaviors. He is using Drosophila as a model organism to explore conserved mechanisms of lipid homeostasis that may provide fundamental insight into human metabolic disease, ranging from obesity to lipodystrophy.

Dr. Kamal Bharucha

“The majority of genes that cause human disease have a Drosophila homolog, and this holds true for disorders of metabolism as well,” Dr. Bharucha said. “Furthermore, many of the same molecular mechanisms seem to be involved in regulating energy homeostasis across species. Given the powerful tools available in Drosophila genetics, the fruit fly provides a powerful system to study these conserved processes.”

Dr. George Lister, chairman of pediatrics, accepted the award on behalf of Dr. Bharucha at the May dinner.

“A few years ago I stumbled into a meeting of pediatric department chairs and I was immediately captivated by Dr. Bharucha’s scientific presentation,” Dr. Lister said.

“He was studying the glucagon receptor in fruit flies and realized that by blocking its function he created obese flies. This model provided him a golden opportunity for insight into the changes in metabolism that occur with obesity and the factors that control eating behavior. He has an exceptional background. His work is imaginative, and he is fearless in his pursuit of his scientific goals.”

Dr. Bharucha earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and his medical degree from Yale School of Medicine. He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2007.

President’s Research Council

The Distinguished Young Researcher Awards are presented annually by the President's Research Council, an organization founded in 1985 by Cece Smith and Ford Lacy. It is made up of community leaders interested in learning about and advancing medical research at UT Southwestern. The council's membership fees support research by new faculty investigators.

President's Research Council members are invited to attend four lectures a year by leading UT Southwestern researchers as well as the annual banquet honoring awardees. For membership information, contact the Office of Development at 214-648-2344.