Baylor College of Medicine recognizes research excellence with DeBakey Awards

Each year, Baylor College of Medicine faculty are recognized for their outstanding published scientific contributions to clinical and basic science research over the past three years through the Michael E. DeBakey M.D. Award for Excellence in Research.

This year’s 2022 recipients are Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi (joint awardees), Dr. Joseph Hyser, Dr. Katherine King, Dr. Irina Larina, Dr. Scott A. LeMaire and Dr. Ying Shen (joint awardees) and Dr. Sundeep Keswani.

“Each year we celebrate and honor researchers from our Baylor community who have made significant contributions to improving healthcare,” said Dr. Paul Klotman, Baylor president, CEO and executive dean. “These awards celebrate the legacy of innovation in research and medicine set forth by Dr. DeBakey.”

The awards, named in honor of pioneering heart surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, the first president of Baylor College of Medicine, and sponsored by the DeBakey Medical Foundation, include a commemorative medallion and funds to support further research.

The eight researchers were recognized and presented their work at a small in-person ceremony on Wednesday, Aug. 17.

“It is an honor to recognize this group. They represent the continued work here at Baylor to improve health and humanity and each researcher demonstrates the impact to science and the community,” said Dr. Mary Dickinson, senior vice president and dean of research at Baylor.

Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi 
Associate dean of the National School for Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development

Dr. Bottazzi is an internationally recognized tropical and emerging disease vaccinologist, global health advocate and co-creator of a patent-free, open science COVID-19 vaccine technology that led to the development of Corbevax, a COVID-19 vaccine for the world. She pioneers and leads the advancement of a robust infectious and tropical disease vaccine portfolio tackling diseases such as coronavirus, hookworm, schistosomiasis and Chagas that disproportionally affect the world’s poorest populations. She also has established innovative partnerships in Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, making significant contributions to innovative educational and research programs, catalyzing policies and disseminating science information to reach a diverse set of audiences.

As global thought-leader she has received national and international highly regarded awards, has more than 280 scientific papers and participated in more than 250 conferences worldwide. She is a member of the National Academy of Science of Honduras and an Emerging Leader in Health and Medicine of the National Academy of Medicine in the U.S.

Bottazzi is a fellow of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), the Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) and the Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement and senior fellow of the American Leadership Forum (ALF). Forbes LATAM in 2020 and 2021 selected Bottazzi as one of 100 Most Powerful Women in Central America. Bottazzi has served in several national academies ad-hoc committees and serves as co-chair of the Vaccines and Therapeutics Taskforce of the Lancet Commission on COVID-19. In 2022, alongside Dr. Peter Hotez, she was nominated by Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher of Texas for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Peter Hotez 
Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development

Dr. Hotez is an internationally recognized physician-scientist in neglected tropical diseases and vaccine development.  As co-director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development, he leads a team and product development partnership for developing new vaccines for hookworm infection, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and SARS/MERS/SARS-2 coronavirus, diseases affecting hundreds of millions of children and adults worldwide, while championing access to vaccines globally and in the U.S.

In December 2021, Hotez led efforts at the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development to develop a low-cost recombinant protein COVID vaccine for global health, resulting in emergency use authorization in India. In 2022 Hotez and his colleague Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for “their work to develop and distribute a low-cost COVID-19 vaccine to people of the world without patent limitation.”

In 2014-16, he served in the Obama Administration as U.S. Envoy, focusing on vaccine diplomacy initiatives between the U.S. government and countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  In 2018, he was appointed by the U.S. State Department to serve on the Board of Governors for the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation, and he is frequently called on frequently to testify before U.S. Congress. He has served on infectious disease task forces for two consecutive Texas governors.  For these efforts in 2017 he was named by FORTUNE Magazine as one of the 34 most influential people in healthcare, while in 2018 he received the Sustained Leadership Award from Research!America.

Most recently as both a vaccine scientist and autism parent, he has led national efforts to defend vaccines and to serve as an ardent champion of vaccines going up against a growing national “antivax” threat. In 2019, he received the Award for Leadership in Advocacy for Vaccines from the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.  In 2021 he was recognized by scientific leadership awards from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the American Medical Association, in addition to being recognized by the Anti-Defamation League with its annual Popkin Award for combating antisemitism.

Dr. Joseph Hyser
Assistant professor of molecular virology and microbiology and member of the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research

Dr. Joseph Hyser’s research work is dedicated to improving our understanding of host-pathogen interactions. He has focused on characterizing host signaling pathways that enteric viruses, such as rotavirus, destabilize to cause gastrointestinal disease. His work stands out because it is shifting prevailing paradigms within the field.

In recent work, Hyser used calcium biosensor cell lines and organoids he developed to perform long-term live calcium imaging throughout rotavirus infections. This work is paradigm shifting because it firmly established that rotavirus increase calcium through hundreds of discrete calcium signaling events rather than a general, monophasic increase in cytosolic calcium levels. This study also led to the discovery of multiple distinct types of calcium signals present at different stages of the infection.
Another study showed that calcium-conducting viroporins are a broadly conserved strategy used by viruses to exploit host calcium signaling pathways. This finding has opened the door to identify commonly exploited host pathways for which host-targeted antiviral drugs could be developed.

Recently, Hyser published the first direct evidence that viruses can trigger aberrant calcium signaling in uninfected cells by exploiting a host paracrine signaling pathway. Live imaging data show calcium signals coming from rotavirus-infected cells and spreading to surrounding uninfected cells—a type of signal called intercellular calcium waves. He found that eliminating the calcium waves severely reduced rotavirus replication, suggesting that rotavirus has evolved to co-opt this host intercellular signal to increase its replication. Taken together, Hyser’s work establishes a new mechanism by which viruses commandeer nearby uninfected cells to contribute to pathogenesis through paracrine signaling.

Dr. Katherine King
Associate professor of pediatrics – infectious diseases and member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Cell and Gene Therapy

Dr. King’s research focuses on the effects of infection and inflammation on primitive hematopoiesis. As a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Texas Children’s Hospital, King recognized the need to understand bone marrow suppressive effects of chronic infection, and she led the field to characterize hematopoietic stem cell responses in the context of animal models of infection. Her review on the topic of inflammatory modulation of hematopoietic stem cells altered the way the field views the interactions between systemic inflammation and stem cells, with continuing repercussions in the fields of malignant and nonmalignant hematology, aging and immunology.

Using a multidisciplinary approach, she has pioneered the concept that hematopoietic stem cells are extremely sensitive to inflammatory signals in the bone marrow environment. Her research has defined a role for inflammatory signaling in bone marrow suppression following chronic infection and in the emergence of clonal hematopoiesis, a recently defined phenomenon that drives cancer risk and cardiovascular disease in advanced age.

Over the past three years, her research efforts have resulted in 9 senior-author research articles in leading journals in her field including Cell Stem Cell, Cell Reports, and eLife. King’s highly innovative and impactful work at the intersection of immunology and hematology has made her an international leader in the field of stem cell biology. She is a skilled clinician, a healthcare advocate, scientist, administrative leader and trusted mentor.

Dr. Irina Larina
Associate professor of integrative physiology

Dr. Irina Larina’s lab is dedicated to the development of new biophotonic technologies to define pathways involved in live embryo progression and, specifically, cardiac development. She also applies her new biophotonic methods to image developmental processes in various mouse models to elucidate pathophysiological mechanisms underlying reproductive disorders. Larina also develops data processing methods that enable her to uncover new information about congenital defects and reproductive disorders that reveal the dynamics of developmental processes, which have not been accessible before.

Most recently she used second harmonic generation microscopy to image collage fibers in embryonic hearts, revealing a link between structural collagen and regional contractility that suggested a regulatory role for cardiomyocyte contractility in establishing mechanical homeostasis in the developing heart. These findings revealed new features of the biochemical alterations found in congenital heart defects and heart failure. In addition, her lab recently established a method to study the interactions between genetic and mechanical factors in both normal and pathogenic cardiogenesis in vivo, such as arrhythmias.

In the area of reproduction, Larina’s innovative biophotonics technology provided direct visualization of the movement of oocytes and embryos in the fallopian tube. Identifying abnormalities in this process is critical for defining defects in mammalian fertilization and embryogenesis. Using her new approach, which combines optical coherence tomography with intravital imaging, Larina showed that cilia do not drive directional oocyte/embryo transport. The timing of the oocyte/embryo transport is primarily regulated by smooth muscle dynamics at different locations within the oviduct.

Dr. Scott A. LeMaire 
Jimmy and Roberta Howell Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery, vice chair for research in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, director of research in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery and professor of molecular physiology and biophysics 

Dr. LeMaire’s primary clinical interest focuses on the management of patients with thoracic aortic disease, with a particular emphasis on treatment of aortic dissection and thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysms. His corresponding research program focuses on organ protection during aortic surgery, genetic aspects of thoracic aortic disease and molecular mechanisms of aortic degeneration.

He has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the Thoracic Surgery Foundation and the Marfan Foundation for his research studying the pathobiology of thoracic aortic aneurysms and aortic dissection. LeMaire is a past-president of the Association for Academic Surgery and is the current editor-in-chief of the Journal of Surgical Research.

LeMaire also serves as a physician associate in the Department of Cardiovascular Surgery at the Texas Heart Institute and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Dr. Ying Shen
Professor of surgery and director of the Aortic Disease Research Laboratory 

Dr. Shen’s research focuses on understanding the development of vascular diseases. She became the director of the Aortic Disease Research Laboratory in 2008, and has since focused on aortic aneurysms and dissections, highly lethal but poorly understood diseases. She has worked closely with collaborator Dr. Scott LeMaire and together, they have built a translational research program and developed several research directions to investigate the mechanisms of aortic injury, repair and remodeling. The ultimate goal of her research is to develop pharmacological treatments to prevent progressive aortic destruction, maladaptive remodeling and disease deterioration.

Dr. Sundeep Keswani
Professor of surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology, division chief of pediatric surgery and surgical director of basic science research at Texas Children’s Hospital

Dr. Sundeep Keswani’s lab, the Laboratory for Regenerative Tissue Repair, is focused on understanding the molecular mechanism that underlies the fetus’ ability to regeneratively heal cutaneous wounds, as well as the development of novel therapies to achieve scarless wound healing in postnatal tissues, specifically the interaction of inflammation and extracellular matrix to drive fibrotic responses within human skin in response to injury. Most recently he has shown that bacteriophage trigger antiviral immunity and prevent clearance of bacterial infection and that Interleukin-10 producing T lymphocytes (TR1 cells) reduce dermal scarring. In addition to his work in skin, his group also has discovered that hyaluronan attenuates tubulointerstitial scarring in kidney injury. During the last three years, he has published his research outcomes in highly prestigious journals such as Science, Annals of Surgery and JCI Insight.

Keswani also serves as a governor of the American College of Surgeons and continually publishes articles that examine the state of research and surgery, keeping surgeon-scientists highly relevant nationally.

 

By Dana Benson

 

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