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News and Awards

Nominata Award

Divya Bezwada - 2023 Nominata Award Winner
Divya Bezwada 

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is pleased to announce Divya Bezwada, of the Cancer Biology Graduate Program and Mechanisms of Disease and Translational Science track as the recipient of the 2023 Nominata Award, the highest honor for academic and research accomplishment bestowed by the graduate school unto an advanced graduate student. Ms. Bezwada, who will graduate next month, is mentored by Ralph Deberardinis, M.D., Ph.D., in the Children’s Research Institute. For her dissertation research,  Divya developed and applied isotope tracing methods to distinguish human kidney cancer subtypes in patients in vivo. She showed that human clear cell renal cell carcinomas (ccRCC) suppress glucose oxidation in the TCA cycle,  the first definitive demonstration of the Warburg effect in vivo in human tumors. Her work also revealed that mitochondrial glucose oxidation plays a role in ccRCC metastasis, affording a new metabolic target for cancer therapies. Of note, Divya also received the 2020 Ida Green Award in recognition of both her research as well as her contribution to the well-being of the UT Southwestern Graduate School community. She embodies UT Southwestern’s collaborative spirit and commitment to impactful biomedical research.

Two Nominata Award finalists will receive Dean’s Discretionary Awards. Yang Liu, a Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program student in the lab of Xiaochun Li, Ph.D., Department of Molecular Genetics, studies the structural biology of lipid metabolism and signaling. Jugal Mohapatra, a Biological Chemistry Graduate Program student in the lab of Glen Liszczak, Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry, works on post-translational modification of histones by ADP-ribosylation in chromatin remodeling following DNA damage.


The Graduate Student Organization (GSO) created the Nominata Award in 1980 to stimulate academic excellence and research achievement among the advanced graduate students. The award consisted of a monetary prize and a gift certificate from Majors Scientific Books. Today, the Committee on Graduate School Awards, comprised of graduate school faculty, judges the nominees. The recipient receives a monetary award and the honor of presenting their research to the UT Southwestern community within the forum of the University Lecture Series. 

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Brown-Goldstein Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research

Justin Jensen, Ph.D.
Justin Jenson, Ph.D.

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is pleased to announce that  Justin Jenson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Zhijian (James) Chen, Ph.D., Department of Molecular Biology, as the 2023 recipient of the Brown-Goldstein Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral Research. Honoring the contributions of Drs. Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein to the training of the next generation of scientists, this award is the highest honor for research accomplishment bestowed by the Graduate School on a postdoctoral research fellow. Chosen by a committee of graduate school faculty members, the winner receives a monetary prize as well as the opportunity to present the University Lecture. 

Dr. Jenson’s research centers on anti-phage innate immune signaling pathways in bacteria. He established phage-host model systems to study the role of cGAS — an enzyme that plays a pivotal role in immune defense against microbial infection in vertebrates — in bacterial innate immunity. This work has led to a series of discoveries including: 1) identifying a novel protein modification that enhances anti-phage host responses, 2) finding a phage-encoded protein that antagonizes anti-phage signaling pathways, and 3) isolating phage escape mutants that evade some anti-phage defense pathways.

His studies, which will be reported imminently in the journal Nature, reveal what appears to be a primordial innate immune mechanism and shine light on the molecular arms race in which bacteria and viruses are engaged.

In addition, award finalist Ashley Solmonson, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral scholar and now assistant instructor in the laboratory of Ralph Deberardinis, M.D., Ph.D., Children’s Research Institute, will receive a Dean’s Discretionary Award. Dr. Solmonson developed a technically stunning approach to study metabolic changes during fetal and placental development and applied this approach to study an inborn error of metabolism associated with mutations in the lipoyltransferase gene LIPT1. Her studies reveal distinct and organ-specific metabolic changes that are developmentally regulated. The insights that she gained from these studies are being used to inform potential treatment options for patients with this inborn error of metabolism.

Please support our excellent trainees by attending the University Lecture to congratulate them and hear Dr. Jenson’ seminar, entitled “Conjugation of bacterial cGAS enhances anti-phage defense” on Wednesday, April 26th at 4:00 PM.

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Ida M. Green Award

Gina Park
Gina Park

Please join Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in congratulating Gina Park, who has been selected to receive the 37th  Annual Ida M. Green Award. 

Gina J. Park, a 3rd year student in the Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Program and an M.D./Ph.D. candidate in the University’s Perot Family Scholars Medical Scientist Training Program. As part of her dissertation research in the lab of HHMI Investigator Vincent Tagliabracci, PhD, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology, Gina discovered the mechanism of mRNA capping by SARS-CoV-2, which involves a novel reaction catalyzed by a pseudokinase domain. This work, reported in Nature, has also been recognized by the UTSW 2022 Kirkpatrick Award and by an award for best poster at the 2022 FASEB Protein Kinases and Phosphorylation Conference.

Ms. Park’s contributions in support of fellow UT Southwestern graduate students include serving as a student representative for WISMAC, participating in outreach activities for the STARS symposium, playing an active role in the Women in MSTP Committee, and working with the Alliance for Women Scientists as a panelist for Careers in Science and Medicine discussions at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School in Dallas and the Young Women’s Leadership Academy in Fort Worth, both all-girls public schools.

The award will be presented at a private ceremony that will include guests of the recipient, graduate school faculty and staff, members of WISMAC, representatives of Southwestern Medical Foundation and of the Cecil Green Estate.

The Ida M. Green Award was established in 1987 with a bequest from Mrs. Green to Southwestern Medical Foundation. With encouragement from her husband, Cecil Green, the award was established to acknowledge a female graduate student in the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to research excellence, the well-being of fellow students, and exceptional community service. The honor comes with a monetary award provided by the Women in Science and Medicine Advisory Committee (WISMAC) and Southwestern Medical Foundation.

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William F. and Grace H. Kirkpatrick Award

Gina Park, Kirkpatrick Award Recipient
Gina Park

On behalf of the Graduate School Awards Committee, we are pleased to announce the recipient of the William F. and Grace H. Kirkpatrick Award is Gina Park.

The William F. and Grace H. Kirkpatrick Award is given annually to the graduate student who submitted the most scientifically meritorious NIH F or equivalent fellowship grant application during the prior academic year, as judged by the Graduate School Awards Committee. The award provides funds to kickstart the proposed research, irrespective of the funding agency’s decision.

Ms. Park is an MSTP student in her fifth year overall and her third year of graduate school in the laboratory of Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., in the Department of Molecular Biology. Ms. Park’s application, entitled “Investigating the RNA Capping Mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 and other Nidoviruses” was chosen from among 15 eligible submissions. 

The proposed research will build upon a discovery that Ms. Park and Dr. Tagliabracci and colleaugues recently published (Park et al. 2022. The mechanism of RNA capping by SARS-CoV-2. Nature 609: 793–800) to identify whether RNA capping enzymes provide new antiviral targets for a broad range of Nidovirales viruses. The Kirkpatrick Award provides $30,000 to the Tagliabracci lab to support the proposed research.

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