Five named Endowed Scholars

UT Southwestern's acclaimed Endowed Scholars Program in Medical Science has welcomed five new faculty members to its ranks.

Established in 1998 through a $52 million fund-raising campaign, the program is part of UT Southwestern's ongoing effort to attract and retain the best and brightest young medical investigators and to maintain the institution's pre-eminence in science.

Each of the competitively selected candidates is recruited to UT Southwestern as a tenure-track assistant professor from leading universities, institutions and laboratories worldwide. The program supports each recipient for four years.

"The Endowed Scholars Program was created with the help of generous donors and others with the foresight to see what a tremendous impact these talented young investigators will have on UT Southwestern, Dallas and the future of medicine," said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, UT Southwestern president.

To date, 35 endowed scholars have joined UT Southwestern's faculty. Each receives $1 million over the four-year period to equip labs, start research efforts and provide salary support. They work alongside established scientists, who guide and critique their work. After four years are completed, scholars are expected to be fully prepared to compete successfully for external research funds.

Scholars for 2004-2008 are:

Southwestern Medical Foundation Scholar in Biomedical Research
Dr. Chuo Chen, assistant professor of biochemistry, previously held a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard University, where he also earned his doctorate in chemistry.

Dr. Chen's research interests are in the field of natural product synthesis and chemical biology. One of his projects focuses on the synthesis of natural products with novel skeletal structures and biological properties. Another project involves using a technique called diversity-oriented synthesis to create collections of small molecules with subtle chemical and structural differences. These molecules may affect the function of larger molecules that comprise living systems.

Dr. Chen's work to screen libraries of such small-molecule collections will aid researchers in identifying compounds that can be used to study protein functions and advance understanding of life processes, as well as in the search for new pharmacological agents.

W.A. Moncrief Jr. Scholar in Medical Research
Dr. Qinghua Liu, assistant professor of biochemistry, earned his Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology from Baylor College of Medicine. Prior to joining the faculty, he was a postdoctoral fellow at UT Southwestern under Dr. Xiaodong Wang, professor of biochemistry, where Dr. Liu's research has focused on the biochemical analysis of RNA interference.

RNAi is a gene-silencing mechanism that blocks activity of a target gene by destroying the RNA made by that gene, preventing protein formation. The long-term goal of Dr. Liu's research is to optimize and apply RNAi to treat human cancers by blocking the RNA of specific cancer-causing genes.

Dr. Liu received a 2005 Damon Runyon Scholar Award, given annually to five young American scientists in the early part of their independent research careers. While still a postdoctoral trainee, he received a highly competitive $150,000, two-year "high-risk" grant administered by the dean of UT Southwestern Medical School.

Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research
Dr. Lawrence Lum, assistant professor of cell biology, earned his Ph.D. from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Dr. Lum's research explores the role of the Hedgehog and Wnt family of secreted signaling proteins, which are important for determining cell fate during development. In adult organisms, these proteins appear to be essential for stem cell self-renewal, and inappropriate activation of their pathways commonly results in cancer.

He uses biochemical approaches and RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) to perform genome-wide screens in fruit fly, mouse and human cultured cells to identify genes involved in Hedgehog and Wnt signaling processes. He hopes that these approaches will help identify potential therapeutic targets and diagnostic markers for cancer and other diseases that stem from aberrant signaling activity.

Rita C. and William P. Clements Jr. Scholar in Medical Research
Dr. Jonathan Terman, assistant professor in the Center for Basic Neuroscience and of pharmacology, received his doctorate in neuroscience from Ohio State University School of Medicine. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

His research efforts focus on characterizing the molecular basis by which the axons from nerve cells grow and find their targets, as well as how they can be encouraged to regrow following injury or disease. Understanding how nerve circuits are assembled and maintained may suggest therapeutic strategies for a number of mental diseases and neurological disorders.

Dr. Terman's studies have focused on identifying the proteins that enable certain axons to reach their targets, as well as determining how such proteins work together to form signaling pathways. He also is investigating small molecules that might be used to regulate the activity of such proteins and encourage axons to regrow after injury.

W.W. Caruth Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research
Dr. Wade Winkler, assistant professor of biochemistry, earned a doctorate in microbiology from Ohio State University and worked with Dr. Ronald Breaker at Yale University as a postdoctoral scientist.

Dr. Winkler's research focuses on the diverse range of functional roles that RNA polymers enact within cells. Specifically, he is interested in discovering novel RNA-mediated mechanisms of genetic control, as well as understanding how they function at the molecular level.

His research on riboswitches, which are metabolite-sensing RNA structures, has revealed that RNA-mediated regulatory mechanisms are much more widespread than previously anticipated. Additionally, they are utilized for genetic regulation of many fundamental biochemical pathways in bacteria.

Dr. Winkler's laboratory is interested both in how riboswitches work to control gene expression and in their potential as targets for drug development. His laboratory is using data from these studies to develop biological engineering techniques that will be used for a variety of biomedical applications.