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News and Awards

Nominata Award

Heankel Lyons - 2024 Nominata Award Winner
Heankel Lyons

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is pleased to announce Heankel Lyons, a fourth year student in the Genetics, Development, and Disease Graduate Program, as the recipient of the 2024 Nominata Award, the highest honor for academic and research accomplishment bestowed by the graduate school unto an advanced graduate student. Ms. Lyons is mentored by Ben Sabari, PhD, in the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences. In her dissertation research, Heankel discovered novel mechanisms that drive biomolecular condensate specificity and function in the regulation of gene transcription during cellular differentiation and in dysregulated gene expression in cancer. Part of this work has been published and featured on the cover of Cell. 

Runner-up Yichi (Tony) Zhang, PhD, will receive a Dean’s Discretionary Award. Tony, who was in the Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program, completed his PhD last summer in the lab of Eric Olson, PhD, Department of Molecular Genetics, identifying the contribution of the myogenin-myostatin axis to cancer cachexia-induced muscle atrophy and establishing the role of the nuclear envelope protein Net39 in muscle development, maintenance, and disease. This work appeared in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


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

Simon Lebek, M.D.
Simon Lebek, M.D.

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is pleased to announce that  Simon Lebek, M.D., a former postdoctoral scholar in the laboratory of Eric Olson, Ph.D. and Rhonda Bassel-Duby, Ph.D., in the Department of Molecular Biology, as the 2024 recipient of the Brown-Goldstein Award for Excellence in Postdoctoral ResearchDr. Lebek has recently transitioned to his new faculty appointment at University Hospital Regensburg in Germany. 

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. Lebek’s research projects have focused on understanding pathologic mechanisms of common cardiovascular diseases and developing new therapeutic strategies against them. He found an overactivation of the stress-responsive enzyme CaMKIIδ in myocardial biopsies from patients with sleep apnea, which resulted in proarrhythmic alterations of the myocardial sodium and calcium homeostasis and subsequent multicellular arrhythmias. He then identified an ATP-competitive CaMKIIδ inhibitor that improved myocardial function and blocked arrhythmias in patients’ biopsies. As conventional compound-based strategies often face significant limitations that preclude clinical translation, Dr. Lebek conceived the idea of using CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to modulate pathogenic CaMKIIδ. He developed several gene editing strategies that improved survival and conferred cardioprotection against various heart disease entities in mice. Moving toward clinical translation, he generated a humanized CaMKIIδ knock-in mouse model to deploy the editing strategies optimized for the human genome in vivo in adult mice. Use of a heart-specific promoter restricted the editing exclusively to cardiomyocytes, thereby reducing the risk of potential side effects. Dr. Lebek’s work, which has appeared in the journals Science and Circulation, may thus lead to an advanced strategy for heart disease therapy.

In addition, award finalist Sabareesan Thody, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral scholar and now Assistant Instructor in the laboratory of Michael Rosen, Ph.D., in the Department of Biophysics, will receive a Dean’s Discretionary Award. Dr. Thody’s research focused on unraveling the intricate relationship between small molecules, encompassing metabolites and drugs, and membraneless organelles termed ‘biomolecular condensates’. His use of diverse techniques, including various spectroscopy, biochemical assays, microscopy, and advanced metabolomic mass spectrometry approaches, allowed him to explore the roles of these small molecules in condensate formation. 

Please support our excellent trainees by attending the University Lecture to congratulate them and hear Dr. Lebek’s University Lecture entitled “Precise Gene Editing As A Therapy For Cardiovascular Diseases” on Wednesday, April 24th at 4:00 PM in NG3.112 (note location). 

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Ida M. Green Award

Maggie Wang
Maggie Wang

Please join the Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in congratulating Maggie Wang, who has been selected to receive the 38th  Annual Ida M. Green Award. 

Maggie Wang, M.S., a 4th year student in the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program. Through her dissertation research in the lab of Professor JinmIng Gao, PhD, Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ms. Wang has advanced our understanding of stimulator of interferon genes (STING)-mediated immune mechanisms in nanoparticle-based cancer immunotherapy, identifying a critical subset of rare immune cell populations essential for driving STING-mediated antitumor immunity against solid and metastatic mouse tumors. This work was featured in a co-first authored publication in Science Immunology. She also helped identify prognostic biomarkers for cancer patient responses to immunotherapy through multiplexed immunohistochemistry of lung cancer patient tumors.

Ms. Wang’s contributions in support of fellow UT Southwestern graduate students include mentoring a Green Fellow, serving as vice president and president of the Biotechnology Club and vice president of the UTSW Bioengineering Society chapter, and acting as lead on a Biomedical Sciences Workshop for the Research and Health Careers Conference sponsored by the Office of Student Empowerment and Engagement. In addition, her community service includes being a STEM Higher Education mentor for City Year of Dallas and mentoring Irving High School students in the Sibs in Science program.

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

Devon Jeltema, Kirkpatrick Award Recipient
Devon Jeltema

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 Devon Jeltema.

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.

Devon Jeltema, is a fifth year PhD student in the laboratory of Nan Yan, Ph.D., in the Department of Immunology. Ms. Jeltema’s application, entitled “Role of PARP7 in Negative Feedback Regulation of Type I Interferon Signaling,” examines the regulation and function of the ADP-ribosyltransferase PARP7 in maintaining immune homeostasis in vivo, which may identify novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of diseases associated with type I interferon signaling including autoimmunity, infection, and cancer.

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