Rising Stars: Early-career researchers earn prestigious foundation awards

By Jeff Carlton and Deborah Wormser

Drs. Liu, Kim, and Rosenbaum

Three recently UT Southwestern faculty members have won prominent awards from foundations dedicated to funding innovative research by promising early-career investigators.

They are:

  • Dr. Tae-Kyung Kim, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience, winner of a 2012 Klingenstein Fellowship Award in the Neurosciences.
  • Dr. Xin Liu, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, named a 2012 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar.
  • Dr. Daniel Rosenbaum, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, recognized as a 2012 Searle Scholar.

All were recognized for research projects that show tremendous potential, said Dr. David Russell, Vice Provost and Dean of Basic Research at UT Southwestern.

“A look at those who have won these awards in the past suggests the juries know how to pick future winners,” said Dr. Russell, also Professor of Molecular Genetics.

Dr. Kim’s is exploring how brain development and cognitive function are regulated by sensory experience-induced epigenetic alterations. His recent discovery of enhancer RNAs and their functional implications in gene expression and plasticity of the brain drew the attention of the Klingenstein Fund, which looks to support “young investigators engaged in basic or clinical research that may lead to a better understanding of neurological and psychiatric disorders.”

 “This kind of award really allows young investigators to innovate at an earlier stage in their careers,” said Dr. Joseph Takahashi, Chairman of Neuroscience, who arrived at UT Southwestern in 2009 and recruited Dr. Kim shortly thereafter.

The award is worth $150,000 over three years. Dr. Kim is one of eight Klingenstein Fellows selected out of about 140 applicants.

“I was extremely excited when I found out,” Dr. Kim said. “This is one of the most prestigious awards for young neuroscientists.”

It took some doing for Dr. Liu, who works in the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences, to learn he had been named a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar. He said he missed two phone calls from the foundation’s president, who was hoping to share the good news. She eventually sent Dr. Liu an email requesting he call her back.

“That’s when I found out,” said Dr. Liu, who studies how the organization and dynamics of DNA bits called chromatin affect gene expression. “I was thrilled. This is a big honor.”

The high-profile award is what UT Southwestern hoped of Dr. Liu when he was recruited last December. He joined the faculty after three years of postdoctoral research at Stanford under Dr. Roger Kornberg, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas assisted in recruiting efforts, providing a first-time, tenure-track faculty member award.

“We conducted a very broad faculty search to fill this position, and he just rose to the top of an outstanding and diverse applicant pool,” said Dr. W. Lee Kraus, Director of the Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences and a Professor with appointments both in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Pharmacology. “He has a spectacular track record and some really creative ideas about what he wants to do in his laboratory.”

Dr. Rosenbaum is recognized as a Searle Scholar, which brings $300,000 over three years to support his research into how hormones and lipids alter the structure of integral membrane signaling proteins. This holds relevance for heart disease and atherosclerosis, among other diseases.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by the distinguished Searle committee, and the award will provide critical financial support to help get my lab off the ground at this early stage,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Dr. Rosenbaum, who earned his doctorate in chemistry from Harvard, was one of 15 investigators chosen in the chemical and biological sciences as a 2012 Searle Scholar. He was recruited to the Department of Biochemistry in 2010 by Dr. Steven McKnight, Chairman of Biochemistry, and Dr. Michael Rosen, Professor of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, after postdoctoral training at Stanford with Dr. Brian Kobilka.

In the Kobilka lab, Dr. Rosenbaum elucidated the first structure of a non-rhodopsin G protein-coupled receptor, which is considered to be a landmark accomplishment in structural biology.

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Dr. Kim is a Distinguished Scholar in Neuroscience.

Dr. Kraus holds the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Reproductive Biology Sciences.

Dr. Liu is a W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research.

Dr. McKnight holds the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research and the
Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry.

Dr. Rosen holds the Mar Nell and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry.

Dr. Rosenbaum is a Eugene McDermott Scholar in Medical Research.

Dr. Russell holds the Eugene McDermott Distinguished Chair in Molecular Genetics.

Dr. Takahashi holds the Loyd B. Sands Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience.

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