5 Endowed Scholars receive appointments

By Amanda Siegfried
Office of News and Publications

Five of the world's top young researchers have been appointed as members of UT Southwestern's acclaimed Program for Endowed Scholars in Medical Science.

The program was established in 1998 and has a $60 million endowment to attract and retain the best and brightest medical investigators at the inception of their careers and to ensure the institution's future pre-eminence in science.

The Endowed Scholars Program provides support for four years to competitively selected candidates who are recruited to UT Southwestern as tenure-track assistant professors from leading universities, institutions and laboratories worldwide.

"Our endowed scholars are talented, dedicated and intellectually gifted investigators who show great promise for remarkable and out standing independent scientific careers," said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, UT Southwestern president. "The extraordinary generosity of our donors and others who helped create the Endowed Scholars Program benefits Dallas,  UT Southwestern and the future of medicine by supporting these exceptional researchers."

To date, 30 endowed scholars have joined UT Southwestern's faculty. Scholars receive $1 million over four years for their research programs and salaries. They work alongside established scientists, who provide guidance and critique their work.

By the time four years are completed, scholars are expected to be prepared to compete successfully for external research funds.

Scholars who began their appointments in 2003-2004 are:

Cain Foundation Scholar in Medical Research
Dr. Weichun Lin, assistant professor in the Center for Basic Neuroscience, earned his doctorate in neuroscience from the State University of New York. He was a postdoctoral fellow and research associate at the Salk Institute at La Jolla, Calif.

Dr. Lin is studying the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the formation, maintenance and plasticity of synapses - the junctions between nerve cells or between a nerve cell and a muscle cell, where signals are passed from one cell to another. Using neuromuscular junctions in mice as a model, his laboratory examines the initial cellular and molecular events that trigger synapse formation, as well as mechanisms regulating synaptic patterning and the survival of motor neurons during development. His research methods combine molecular biology, biochemistry, electrophysiology and mouse genetics.

Nancy Cain and Jeffrey A. Marcus Scholar in Medical Research, in Honor of Dr. Bill S. Vowell
Dr. Lora Hooper, assistant professor in the Center for Immunology, received her doctorate in molecular cell biology and biochemistry from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also completed a postdoctoral fellowship.

Her research centers on host-microbial interactions, including how microbes - especially the hundreds of species of bacteria in the human gut - help to shape the development and function of the immune system. Her work has applications in the search for novel ways to fight infections due to the growing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Dr. Hooper's re search has shown, for example, that it may be possible to improve a person's resistance to certain infections just by increasing the numbers of certain beneficial microbes in the intestines.

W.W. Caruth Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research
Dr. Youxing Jiang, assistant professor of physiology, earned a doctorate in chemistry from Yale University. He completed his postdoctoral work in molecular neurobiology and biophysics at Rockefeller University.

Dr. Jiang's research interests include X-ray crystallography, the biochemistry of membrane proteins and electrophysiology. His work has focused on determining the structure and function of ion channels, which are proteins found in cell membranes. In one of his most significant research projects, conducted as a postdoctoral fellow, he determined the 3-D structure of a voltage-dependent potassium channel. Such channels are crucial for the generation of electrical impulses in nerve and muscle cells, and their functions underlie all movement, sensation and thought. His work, which he continues at UT Southwestern, provides crucial insight into understanding how these channels work to excite nerve and muscle cells.

Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research
Dr. Michael Kyba, assistant professor in the Center for Developmental Biology, earned his doctorate in zoology from the University of British Columbia in Canada. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in stem cell biology at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.

Dr. Kyba's research explores the biology of stem cells and aims at understanding the regulatory circuits that determine what type of cell that stem cells are destined to become, as well as their therapeutic potential. As a postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Kyba was part of a group that successfully combined cloning by nuclear transfer, gene therapy and embryonic stem-cell therapy to treat mice with a genetic immune deficiency, demonstrating the feasibility of therapeutic cloning.

At UT Southwestern, Dr. Kyba focuses on hematopoietic stem cells in mice, which produce various types of blood and immune cells. The human version of these cells is used in bone-marrow transplants. He currently is working to understand what factors cause mouse embryonic stem cells to turn into hematopoietic stem cells.

Southwestern Medical Foundation Scholar in Biomedical Research
Dr. Joseph Ready, assistant professor of biochemistry, earned his doctorate in chemistry from Harvard University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale.

Dr. Ready's research focuses on synthetic organic chemistry, specifically the discovery and application of new chemical reactions and the total synthesis of complex molecules. His objective is to develop novel catalysts that will speed up the preparation of potential drug therapies, enabling more drug candidates to be evaluated, and to improve methods to synthesize known compounds, making them less expensive.

At UT Southwestern, Dr. Ready has developed a new copper-catalyzed reaction for joining small molecules together to make larger, complex molecules that may display important biological activities. Without this new reaction, which uses an inexpensive catalyst, such structures are difficult to prepare.