Dr. Rodney Infante: Hemphill-Gojer Award in Internal Medicine

By Debbie Bolles

For two years, in a sterile research lab, Dr. Rodney Infante studied proteins that transport cholesterol unaware of the potential life-changing impact of his work. Then he gave a talk on his research, and the significance of his work burst into reality in the form of a father desperately seeking help for his son.

Dr. Rodney Infante
Dr. Rodney Infante

“The father of this affected child immediately gave me a hug and started crying. He kept holding me and he said, ‘Thank you so much,’” Dr. Infante said. “Those experiences are the payoff for a physician-scientist. You potentially could be affecting millions of people down the road.”

Although there’s still no cure for the neurological disorder affecting the man’s son, Dr. Infante’s research gives insight into the biological mechanism deficient in Neimann-Pick disease Type C, a fatal childhood disorder. With dual medical and doctorate degrees, Dr. Infante stands armed to search for a cure.

“I’m very passionate about my work, so I take it very seriously and try to give it all I have,” he said. “Being a physician-scientist allows you to focus in on a given problem and work passionately until it’s solved.”

That passion helped Dr. Infante become the 2012 recipient of the Hemphill-Gojer Award in Internal Medicine, given annually to the top medical student interested in internal medicine.

The Hemphill-Gojer Award was established by Ross H. and Anne Seymour Hemphill in honor of their son and daughter-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Seymour Hemphill; their daughter and son-in-law, Dr. and Mrs. Bernard Gojer; and Anne Hemphill’s parents, E. Clyde and Florine Allen Seymour. Dr. Hemphill and Dr. Gojer are both UT Southwestern Medical School alumni.

Dr. Hari Raja, Professor of Internal Medicine who nominated Dr. Infante for the Hemphill-Gojer, said he expects great things from his student.

“Rodney excelled in all areas of clinical evaluation during his Internal Medicine clerkship. His attending characterized him as having an excellent fund of knowledge, coupled with wonderful clinical skills,” Dr. Raja said.

From 2004 to 2009, Dr. Infante worked in the laboratory of Nobel laureates Dr. Joseph Goldstein, Chairman of Molecular Genetics, and Dr. Michael Brown, Director of the Erik Jonsson Center for Research in Molecular Genetics and Human Disease. During that time, he earned his Ph.D. and published his research in three major scientific publications – two in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and one each in Cell and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“My mentors work very hard and expect high-quality input and output for each project. The hard work pays off in the end,” Dr. Infante said. “You kind of lose sight of how they are perceived by the outside world as phenomenal scientists. They become fellow scientists you think with and attempt to solve important problems with.”

In 2008, Dr. Infante received the prestigious Nominata Award related to his research in the lab. The award is the highest honor bestowed on a student by the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

With his medical degree now in hand, Dr. Infante has accepted a residency in general internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, the same hospital where Dr. Brown and Dr. Goldstein trained. He plans to pursue a fast-track program practicing medicine for two years, followed by a fellowship.

The native of Miami Shores, Fla., earned premed and accounting degrees at the University of Florida, worked in business for a few years, then was drawn back to medicine and science.

Dr. Infante and his wife, Marissa, a middle school science teacher, have a 5-year-old son, Jake, who already may have inherited his father’s medical ambitions. One recent afternoon when Dr. Infante was headed home from Jake’s soccer practice, they witnessed a traffic accident. Dr. Infante pulled over, locked his son safely in the car, and attended to the accident victim until paramedics arrived. Afterward, Jake insisted his dad show him that the victim was OK.

“My son said, ‘You know dad, I think I want to be a doctor and help people.’ He could see my instinct was to try to help this stranger in need,” Dr. Infante said.

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Dr. Brown holds the W.A. (Monty) Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine, and is a Regental Professor.

Dr. Goldstein holds the Julie and Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine, and is a Regental Professor.

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