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Two UT Southwestern researchers awarded HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellowships

DALLAS – Sept. 22, 2023 – Two postdoctoral researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center are among 25 early-career scientists nationwide selected as Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Hanna H. Gray Fellows for 2023.

Lisandro Maya-Ramos, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist studying a form of heart failure that affects many with obesity, and Alexandra Wells, Ph.D., a microbiologist who co-authored a study on the virus that causes COVID-19, will each receive up to $1.5 million in support over the next eight years and benefit from mentoring and networking opportunities.

The Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program aims to recruit and retain early-career scientists to become leaders who inspire, train, and mentor future generations. In addition to UT Southwestern, this year’s fellows come from Stanford University, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, and other top-tier institutions. Dr. Maya-Ramos is one of just four physician-scientists recognized this year.

Lisandro Maya-Ramos, M.D., Ph.D.

Lisandro Maya-Ramos, M.D., Ph.D.
Lisandro Maya-Ramos, M.D., Ph.D., is researching how a fat tissue-derived peptide signals to the heart, resulting in inflammation and fibrosis.

Dr. Maya-Ramos, a member of the Hill Lab, is investigating how endotrophin, a fat tissue-derived peptide, signals to the heart and results in heart failure with ejection fraction, a condition for which there are few treatments. Most of the heart failure patients he cares for also have obesity. His findings unraveling mechanisms of adipose tissue signaling could lead to new therapies for heart failure.

A native of Mexico, Dr. Maya-Ramos attended the University of California, San Diego and completed his M.D./Ph.D. at the University of California, San Francisco. He then joined UT Southwestern in the Physician Scientist Training Program in cardiology, where his mentors are cardiologist Joseph A. Hill, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Harry S. Moss Heart Center, and Philipp Scherer, Ph.D., Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research.

“Lisandro is an inspiration to us all,” Dr. Hill said. “We are thrilled that he has chosen UT Southwestern for the final stages of his training as a cardiologist-scientist.”

Alexandra Wells, Ph.D.

Alexandra Wells, Ph.D.
Alexandra Wells, Ph.D., is seeking to identify specific proteins that act to inhibit enteroviruses and flaviviruses.

Dr. Wells, a member of the Schoggins Lab, investigates how the body defends against viral infections, which ignite a powerful immune pathway that sounds the alarm against foreign invaders. Her research seeks to uncover the molecular mechanisms by which host proteins can suppress viral infections. She hopes to identify specific proteins that act to inhibit enteroviruses and flaviviruses, a family of mosquito-borne pathogens that includes West Nile virus, Zika virus, and yellow fever.

A native of New Jersey, Dr. Wells attended Bucknell University and did graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied enteroviruses, including the poliovirus, under the leadership of Carolyn Coyne, Ph.D. Together, they discovered the cellular receptor (FcRn) by which a group of enteroviruses, called echoviruses, enter human cells.

“This award recognizes Alex’s previous scientific achievements and her high potential to make new discoveries in academic science and become a leader in the field,” said John Schoggins, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology. “This is a huge honor for Alex, our lab, and UTSW.”

UTSW Hanna Gray Fellows

With the announcement, UT Southwestern now has four HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows. The others are Victor Lopez, Ph.D., a member of the Tagliabracci Lab, who is using a combination of bioinformatics and biochemistry to identify and characterize members of a family of proteins known as ATP-grasp; and Gabriel Muhire Gihana, Ph.D., a member of the Danuser Lab, who is investigating the role of cell morphology in regulating the molecular signaling of RAS, a prevalent human oncogene.

UT Southwestern has 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, and 19 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and its faculty have received six Nobel Prizes.

Dr. Hill holds the James T. Willerson, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Cardiovascular Diseases and the Frank M. Ryburn, Jr. Chair in Heart Research.

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

Dr. Schoggins holds the Tom and Charlene Marsh Family Distinguished Chair in Medicine and Science and is a Nancy Cain and Jeffrey A. Marcus Scholar in Medical Research, in Honor of Dr. Bill S. Vowell.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center  

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 19 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 120,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 5 million outpatient visits a year.