2021 Celebration of Research Excellence Highlights Accomplishments at Larner

October 29, 2021 by Jennifer Nachbur

The University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine held a successful Dean's Excellence in Research Celebration October 25-27, shining a light on the hard work and achievements of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

The University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine held a successful Dean's Excellence in Research Celebration, shining a light on the hard work and achievements of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The three-day series of virtual events – which were delivered via Zoom – launched on October 25 with a Graduate Student Trainee Showcase. The celebration continued on October 26 with the Distinguished Alumni Award Presentation & Lecture by Junjie Chen, Ph.D.’93, followed by the Research Laureate Lecture by Anne Dixon, M.A., B.M., B.Ch., and 2021 State of Research at the College & Research Excellence Awards presented by Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for research, on October 27.

Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., and Senior Associate Dean for Research Gordon Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., provided welcome remarks at the start of each of the celebration events.

For his Distinguished Alumni Award Lecture, Chen, who is a professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, spoke about “Random Thoughts Between Experiments.” His talk featured fond memories from his research training at UVM and highlighted his experiences investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying genomic instability and tumorigenesis and studying DNA damage response and cancer biology.

Dixon delivered a presentation on “Obesity and Asthma: How Fat affects Flow” from her hometown in England, recounting her research journey after joining UVM in 2000. She described the findings that led her to focus on why obese individuals had worse asthma control and a four-fold risk of hospitalizations and whether or not weight loss improved asthma in these patients. Following the talk, Jensen commented that Dixon’s story provided a “great example of going from molecular biology to quality of life outcomes” research.

Prior to the State of Research at the Larner College of Medicine address, Dean Page and UVM Vice President for Research Kirk Dombrowski, Ph.D., delivered remarks. Dombrowski commented that more than half of UVM’s milestone $204 million in research funding in fiscal year 21 came from grants awarded to Larner faculty. He added that the College had more than 370 awards.

Jensen provided an overview of the research in FY2021. Among the highlights were the construction of the Firestone Building; the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence programs (Vermont Center on Behavior and Health; Translational Global Infectious Diseases Research; Vermont Center on Cardiovascular and Brain Health); and renewals of many major grants, including the Northern New England Clinical and Translation Research award, and a T32 National Institute on Drug Abuse grant, which has been continuously funded for more than 30 years and led by Donaldson Professor of Psychiatry and Vermont Center on Behavior and Health Director Stephen Higgins, Ph.D.

During the awards portion of the celebration, a number of annual awards were presented.

In the Graduate Student Trainee Showcase category, Bryn Loftness, a Ph.D. student in the Complex Systems and Data Science program whose mentors are Ryan McGinnis, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Ellen McGinnis, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, won in the Junior Graduate Category. Allison Morrissey, a graduate student in the Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences program whose mentor is Andrea Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, was runner-up. In the Senior Graduate Category, J.J. Bivona, a CMB graduate student whose mentor is Matthew Poynter, Ph.D., professor of medicine, was the winner. Jeffrey Brabec, a Neuroscience Graduate Program student whose mentor is Matthew Mahoney, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurological sciences, was runner-up.

In the Graduate Student category for the Trainee Awards for Outstanding Research Publication, Leslie Sepaniac, Ph.D., a mentee of Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biophysics Jason Stumpff, Ph.D., was named the winner for her paper, titled "Micronuclei in Kif18a mutant mice form stable micronuclear envelopes and do not promote tumorigenesis." Rhys Niedecker ’24, a mentee of Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurological Sciences Gregory L. Holmes, M.D., received the award in the Medical Student category for his paper, titled "Effects of early life seizures on coordination of hippocampal-prefrontal networks: Influence of sex and dynamic brain states." The Postdoctoral Fellow category award went to Michelle Kloc, Ph.D., for a paper, titled "Recurrent Febrile Seizures alter intra-hippocampal temporal coordination but do not cause spatial learning impairments." Kloc's mentor is Assistant Professor of Neurological Sciences Jeremy Barry, Ph.D. Stephen Ranney, M.D., received the award in the Resident category for a paper, titled "Delay in ICU transfer is protective against ICU readmission in trauma patients: a naturally controlled experiment." Ranney's mentor is Professor of Surgery Ajai Malhotra, M.D.

The following UVM Health Network Medical Group Awards were presented:

  • Junior Researcher of the Year: Tim Plante, M.D., M.H.S., Assistant Professor of Medicine
  • Senior Researcher of the Year: Roger Soll, M.D., H. Wallace Professor of Neonatology
  • Research Grants: Diego Adrianzen-Herrera, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine; and Sherrie Khadanga, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine
  • Innovation Grant: Michael Hehir, M.D., Associate Professor of Neurological Sciences

Included in the 2021 Larner College of Medicine Staff Awards was the Scientific Research Staff award, which went to Susan Richardson, Ph.D., research analyst in pediatrics, and the Clinical Research Coordinator award, which went to two people – Alex Friend, clinical research coordinator in anesthesiology; and Patricia Lutton, clinical research coordinator in microbiology and molecular genetics.

The Larner College of Medicine Faculty Awards were as follows:

  • Research Mentorship: Jason Bates, Ph.D., D. Sc., Professor of Medicine
  • Dean’s Clinical Trials Research Award: Richard Solomon, M.D., Professor of Medicine
  • Rising Star New Investigator: Michael Previs, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
  • Mid-Career Investigator: Jason Stumpff, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
  • Research Laureate: Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

View more information about the 2021 Dean’s Celebration of Excellence in Research events.