Chelsea Hepler: Nominata Award

Chelsea Hepler

Fourth-year graduate student Chelsea Hepler has capped a momentous spring by winning the 2018 Nominata Award, the most prestigious honor for research by a student in the UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The Nominata Award was created by the Graduate Student Organization in 1980 to recognize academic excellence and research achievement among advanced graduate students. The award includes a $2,000 prize, a gift certificate, and the honor of presenting in the University Lecture Series, which Ms. Hepler did in mid-May.

“I am beyond grateful to have received the Nominata Award,” she said. “I want to express my sincere appreciation for the support I have received from my mentor, Dr. Rana Gupta, the members of my lab, as well as the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research.”

That honor came a couple of months after similarly exciting news: Ms. Hepler had earned an invitation to be among about 600 undergraduates, doctoral students, and postdoctoral researchers worldwide to attend the 68th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting June 24-29 in Germany.

“This spring has been a very exciting time for me. I have been working on learning new techniques with our collaborators at UT Southwestern and applying them to new projects in the lab,” she said.

Working in the laboratory of Dr. Gupta, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, she studies adipocyte development, cell differentiation, obesity, and transcriptional regulation.

The Chicago native earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in physiology at the University of Arizona before coming to UT Southwestern.

“I have always been interested in biology,” she said. “During my sophomore year of college, I became interested in studying metabolism when I took a course on exercise physiology. Since then, I have been focused on research in the field of energy balance and metabolic syndrome.”

After completing her master’s degree, she was looking for a top institution for further graduate studies. UT Southwestern proved a natural choice with its extensive history in metabolism research and faculty who are leaders in the field. Ms. Hepler chose to work with Dr. Gupta, she said, because his studies of the transcriptional regulation of adipose tissue fascinated her.

“I’ve been fortunate to work alongside a graduate student who not only excels in her own work, but makes everyone around her in the lab and Touchstone Diabetes Center better,” Dr. Gupta said. “She’s been a great team player.”

Ms. Hepler will defend her thesis in August, and after graduating with a Ph.D. in integrative biology, she’ll pursue a postdoctoral fellowship.

Next year, she’ll marry Dr. Jonathan Xia, who’s currently in the Physician-Scientist Training Program at Northwestern University after graduating from UT Southwestern Medical School in 2017. As a medical student, he also conducted endocrinology research working in the lab of Dr. Philipp Scherer, Director of the Touchstone Diabetes Center and Professor of Internal Medicine and Cell Biology.

“We actually met when I first started in the lab and he was finishing his doctorate in Dr. Scherer’s lab,” Ms. Hepler said. “He helped me obtain tissue samples that I analyzed as part of my first project.”

“Chelsea is a pleasure to have as a colleague in the Touchstone Diabetes Center,” Dr. Scherer said. “She identifies key problems, has a golden touch at the bench, and effectively integrates her results into the bigger questions related to preadipocyte commitment that Dr. Gupta’s lab is working on.”

Dr. Scherer holds the Gifford O. Touchstone, Jr. and Randolph G. Touchstone Distinguished Chair in Diabetes Research.