The 2018 Excellence in Research Awards ceremony was held on October 24, 2018. There are four award levels based on the total amount of eligible extramural research funding received by an investigator. Dr. Joseph Maher (Oncology) received the Gold Award, which is for those who received $1,000,000 total in funding and the investigator receives a $10,000 cash award. Dr. Michael Hall (Cardiology) and Dr. Licy Yanes Cardozo (Endocrinology, Cell and Molecular Biology) were awarded Silver Awards for receiving $500,000 in total research funding and were given a $5,000 cash award. There were 24 UMMC award recipients for fiscal year 2018.

Interviews with Drs. Maher and Hall are below, please click here for Dr. Cardozo’s spotlight in an earlier edition.

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Dr. Joseph Maher

Dr. Maher, what is your professional background? I completed a residency in Internal Medicine followed by a fellowship in Medical Genetics. After this training I took my first job here at UMMC, centered at the VA across the street where I set up a research lab, as well as setting up a Medical Genetics Clinic, a Lipid Clinic with Pepe Subauste, along with inpatient IM attending.  I joined the Cancer Institute, full-time at UMMC, in mid-2011.

Briefly describe your research. Why is it important? I currently have an NIH R01-funded clinical/translational research grant, evaluating the interaction of common QT interval-modifying genetic variants, with secondary QT-modifying factors (such as medications, pulmonary hypertension, etc.) in patients with Sickle Cell disease (SCD). This is important because patients with SCD have early mortality, and an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, in addition to relative QT-interval prolongation, but there is little understanding on the contribution and interactions of genetic factors in these processes in SCD patients. We hope to generate data that will ultimately lead to reduced mortality in these patients; we are nearing completion of enrollment and study acquisition, and already have some very interesting interim analyses that fellows, IM residents, and students are presenting at meetings.

I also have a small research lab that works on a gene family that we first discovered that encode novel signaling factors involved in controlling various aspects of cell-fate, including cancer cell biology; we’re currently focusing on their role in rhabdomyosarcoma.

Who are your mentors and why? I have been lucky to have key mentors all along my training path from my first undergraduate research experience, to medical school, residency, and fellowship. I was probably most inspired by Dr. Elliot Ross, Dr. Joel Goodman, Dr. Victor McKusick, and Dr. Daniel Nathans. Also, arriving at UMMC, Dr. Joe Files, Dr. Kent Kirchner, and Dr. Marty Steinberg played a major role in my being able to get “up and running” as a physician-scientist. I also had some great colleagues nearby, like Jim Wilson and Pepe Subauste.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing research? Take the time to get thorough research training in order to develop what has been called “technical courage”: the feeling that you are prepared to move into a new area and take on new research challenges, methods, and approaches – see “Goldstein, J.L. On the Origin and Prevention of PAIDS (Paralyzed Academic Investigator’s Disease Syndrome). J.  Clin. Invest. 78: 848-854 (1986).”

What do you like most about UMMC? In an overall environment where it is increasingly difficult and competitive to succeed in research while also seeing patients (which is the whole purpose of being a physician-scientist), I feel UMMC has an environment where this can still be done. It is great to have colleagues like we have here at UMMC.


 

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Dr. Michael Hall 

Dr. Hall, what is your professional background? I completed my Internal Medicine Residency and Cardiology Fellowship here at UMMC.  During those years, I completed the Physician-Scientist Pathway where I spent my dedicated research time in the Physiology Department.  Then I went to Wake Forest for an advanced cardiovascular imaging fellowship and Master’s Degree in Clinical, Population and Translational Sciences.  I joined the Cardiology faculty at UMMC in 2013.

 

Briefly describe your research. Why is it important? My research focus is on obesity-induced cardiovascular and renal disease.  I use novel imaging techniques to investigate mechanisms by which visceral fat leads to early kidney and cardiac disease.  Ultimately, obesity and subsequent cardiac and renal injury can lead to heart failure.

Who are your mentors and why? I have been fortunate to have many great mentors along the way.  Dr. John Hall (Physiology) has been one of my primary mentors from very early on.  He has always been tremendously supportive of both my personal and career development.  Drs. Greg Hundley (Wake Forest Cardiology/Imaging) and Luis Juncos (Nephrology) have been mentors for my early career development award (NIH K Award).  I have had several other important mentors from early in my career such as Dr. Dan Jones early in my training to Drs. Bill Little, Mike Winniford and Mike McMullan early in my faculty years and now people who informally mentor me currently such as Dr. Javed Butler and Dr. Adolfo Correa.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing research? Expose yourself broadly to see what you are interested in.  Seek out good mentors- they will impact your career for life.  Work hard – many times research has to occur after hours, particularly for clinicians.  Just try it – most of us are intimidated by things out of our comfort zone or things we are not very experienced at.  There are so many great opportunities to get involved in different types of research in different capacities.  Research helps shape the ways we will be taking care of people in the future and fosters a culture of lifelong learning.  Not to mention- it is fun!

What do you like most about UMMC? The opportunity to work with trainees (students, residents and fellows) is very important to me.  The friendships and collaborations I have made with my colleagues in various departments across campus are great too.  In general, the people at UMMC (both professional and patients) are what make UMMC a great place to work.  At UMMC, we have a lot of opportunities in all three missions for improvement of health in our state, and that is what makes this such a great and impactful place to work.

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