Current Mentored Research Career Development (KL2) Scholars

2022-2024 Cohort

Darlene Bhavnani, PhD, MPH is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health and an infectious disease epidemiologist in the Biomedical Data Science Hub at Dell Medical School. Dr. Bhavnani earned her doctorate in epidemiology and Master of Public Health from the University of Michigan. She has over 10 years of experience in global health and has worked in academic, public, and nonprofit settings in Asia and Latin America. Dr. Bhavnani’s research will focus on examining racial and ethnic disparities in asthma among children in the United States through the lens of respiratory viral infections


Neelam Mukherjee, Ph.D., Instructor, Dept. of Urology, received her bachelor’s and master’s in microbiology from University of Calcutta, India. She completed her Ph.D. in Cellular and Structural Biology in 2015 and pursued her postdoctoral training in bladder cancer immunology in the lab of Dr. Robert Svatek at UT Health San Antonio. Dr. Mukherjee is a cancer immunologist and her research interests involve the characterization of immune populations and the recruitment and activation mechanisms of these immune cells that contribute to effective anti-tumor responses. She wants to use this knowledge to improve the landscape of immunotherapy in cancer patients. During her KL2 years, Dr. Mukherjee will research chemokine signaling and effector cell mechanisms that help restrict bladder tumor growth and develop a novel immunotherapeutic strategy using a modified chemokine.

Pankil Shah, MD, PhD, CPHQ is an Assistant Professor in the Long School of Medicine, UTHeatlh San Antonio. He is an epidemiologist and data scientist focusing on utilizing big data generated from electronic medical records (EMR), omics (gene expression, microbiome, metabolome), and population-level databases, for predictive risk modeling to develop evidence-based precision medicine and public health strategies. He received medical training from Seth GS Medical College & KEM Hospital, Mumbai, India and epidemiology and biostatistics training from UTHealth Houston School of Public Health. His KL2 research focuses on development of diagnostic and prognostic algorithms using artificial intelligence (computer vision and machine learning) to predict the clinical trajectory of patients with cancer at risk of developing long-COVID (post-acute sequalae of SARS CoV-2). This analytic approach combines clinicopathologic, radiomics, and deep learning and can be applied to a broad range of risk-stratification challenges aimed to improve cancer survivorship. The project goal is to integrate the validated algorithms into EMR to facilitate clinical decision making. Dr. Shah aims to establishing an independent research program at the cross-roads of precision medicine and ML/AI with a focus on cancer survivorship.

2021-2023 Cohort

Mbemba Jabbi, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Dell Medical School. Jabbi graduated with combined Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in experimental psychology and neuroanatomy from the University of Groningen, Netherlands, in 2002 and obtained a doctorate in clinical neuroscience from the University Medical Center Groningen in 2007. Prior to joining Dell Medical School, Jabbi did a Fogarty International Visiting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, from 2007 to 2011. He then completed his research fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda in 2016. There, Jabbi lead the translational multicenter studies looking at how rare but penetrant genetic events influence affective processes. Jabbi’s current research applies deep behavioral phenotyping and multimodal imaging genetics to better understand the neurogenetic basis for normal and dysregulated affective functioning. His lab seeks to contribute to the integrative characterization of how genes affect brain circuitry mediation of basic and higher-order adaptive affective functions. Jabbi’s long-term goal is to further use the insights gained from these studies to guide novel strategic identification of neurogenetic biomarkers for maladaptive affective dysfunctions.

Casey Straud, PsyD, is an Assistant Professor and licensed clinical psychologist with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He also holds a joint appointment within the Department of Psychology at University of Texas at San Antonio. His research interests are on the etiology, pathology, and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and factors that impact treatment response. He completed his doctoral degree at Nova Southeastern University and his pre-doctoral internship at the Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System. He completed a two-year postdoctoral clinical research fellowship at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio in collaboration with South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience (STRONG STAR) and the Consortium to Alleviate PTSD (CAP). During his fellowship, he was involved in planning, conducting, analyzing, and disseminating results of randomized clinical trials of cognitive behavior therapy for combat-related PTSD. Dr. Straud will continue his line of research dedicated to PTSD treatment outcomes over the KL2 period. His research project will focus on examination of biological and pharmacological mechanisms to improve current first-line behavioral treatments for PTSD.

Eduardo Marques Zilli, MD, assistant professor and neurologist with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases. Dr. Zilli completed his MD from the Universidade de Brazilia and his neurology residency at the University of Iowa, Then he subsequently pursued a behavioral neurology fellowship at the University of Florida, under the guidance of the world-renowned neurologist and former president of the International Neuropsychological Society Kenneth Heilman. He was involved in research of visuospatial neglect, a frequent and disabling complication of stroke and dementia, and contributed to better characterize challenging presentations of Alzheimer disease (posterior cortical atrophy and logopenic progressive aphasia). This training enabled me to acquire intimate knowledge of brain-behavioral relationships and their clinical, neuropsychological, imaging and laboratory assessment. Dr. Zilli has devoted himself to multiple topics in dementia research: the shortcomings of the concept of normal pressure hydrocephalus, and whether more accurate ways of diagnosing it and predicting the clinical outcomes of shunting surgery could be devised; the interactions between lifelong indolent neuroinfections and risk of Alzheimers and, more recently, the limitations in the diagnostic criteria for Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and how those could be addressed by new electrophysiologic and laboratory assays. His KL2 Project is called Spinal Fluid and EEG for the Diagnosis of Dementia with Lewy Bodies.

2020-2022 Cohort

Mio Kitano, MD, MS, FACS is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology & Endocrine Surgery at UT Health, San Antonio.  She completed her General Surgery Residency at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York.  During her surgical training, she completed a 3-year clinical research fellowship at National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.  Dr. Kitano joined the Division of Surgical Oncology & Endocrine Surgery in 2016 after completing a 2-year clinical fellowship in General Complex Surgical Oncology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.  Dr. Kitano is a general surgical oncologist and treats a wide range of malignancies including gastrointestinal, pancreas, and endocrine cancers as well as sarcoma and melanoma. Her research interest is in understanding the racial disparities in the presentation cancer and her KL2 research will focus on the identification of molecular and epidemiological risk factors in the development of gastric cancer in high-risk predominantly Hispanic population in San Antonio, Texas.      

Jisook Ko, PhD, RN, Assistant Professor in School of Nursing, pursued her PhD in nursing and completed her postdoctoral training in self-management science at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Ko is a nurse scientist with a research focus on developing precise and personalized behavioral nutrition interventions to reduce - and ultimately eliminate - cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular health disparities in ethnic minority populations and underserved communities through a precision health research approach. She also has a special interest in using digital health technologies to increase adherence and participation in cardiovascular clinical trials. In her KL2 time, Dr. Ko will investigate the underlying mechanism that affects individual variability response to a sodium-restricted diet in hypertensive patients using metabolomics and genetics approaches.

Maria “Sukie” Rayas, MD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes. Dr. Rayas received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Washington and Lee University and completed her medical school, residency, and fellowship training at the University of Texas Health San Antonio.  She was awarded the 3-year ENVISION grant by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 2016 to support her career path as a cystic fibrosis (CF) endocrine specialist.  Her recent research efforts have focused on evaluating the contribution of liver disease to diabetes in CF. Her KL2 research will utilize dual glucose tracers and hyperglycemic clamp methodology to identify alterations in the gut-pancreas axis in CF.  Her research will also determine the effect of macronutrient composition on glucose kinetics and islet function in individuals with CF.  Dr. Rayas’ overall long-term career goal is to become an independent physician-scientist whose research elucidates the pathogenesis to diabetes development in CF in an effort to improve screening, diagnosis, and treatment practices.

2019-2021 Cohort

Adewole (Ade) Adamson, M.D., MPP, is a board certified dermatologist and health services researcher. He is an assistant professor of Internal Medicine (Division of Dermatology) at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin where he studies skin cancer, evidence based medicine, and health policy. His primary clinical interest is in caring for patients at high risk for melanoma of the skin, such as those with many moles (particularly atypical moles) or a personal and/or family history of melanoma. Adamson’s research involves understanding patterns of health care utilization including overuse and underuse in dermatology. He is interested in how effectively and efficiently the health care system delivers care to patients with skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the United States. He is passionate about health care disparities, access to specialty health care and health care costs. 

Yvonne Covin, MD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, in the Division of General and Hospital Medicine. Dr. Covin completed her residency in Internal Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital - Columbia University Medical Center. During her General Internal Medicine research fellowship at UT Southwestern, she began a Master of Education in the Health Professions at Johns Hopkins University. During her CTSA supplement, Dr. Covin will study patient-physician communication during the diagnostic process in primary care Practice Based Research Network (PBRN) clinics. She is a recipient of a 2019 CTSA pilot grant award to create a patient-centered research agenda in diagnostic safety. Her long-term goal is to improve patient-physician communication through health information technology interventions, and patient education. Dr. Covin practices in the General Internal Medicine clinic at the Robert B. Green campus.

Xueqiu Jian, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, earned his PhD in Public Health and completed his postdoctoral training in genetic epidemiology of cerebrovascular diseases and brain aging, both at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. In collaboration with investigators from multiple human population studies worldwide, Dr. Jian’s ongoing research involves the application of integrated genomic and other omics approaches to explore the genetic architecture of Alzheimer's disease and related endophenotypes such as brain imaging markers and measures of neurocognitive function, which will improve our understanding of the etiology and molecular mechanisms of the disease, facilitate method development for disease risk prediction and early diagnosis, as well as inform potential targets for disease intervention and prevention. Building on his prior work, Dr. Jian’s KL2 research is focused on detecting and characterizing rare copy number variation for Alzheimer’s disease by leveraging the emerging next-generation sequencing technologies and novel analytical approaches in well-phenotyped large-scale population-based cohort studies within the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology consortium.

Rocío S. Norman, PhD is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the School of Health Professions at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. She earned her undergraduate degree from Florida International University, her Masters’ degree from the University of Texas at Austin and her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During her training, Dr. Norman was an American Speech-Hearing Association New Century Scholar and an NIH Predoctoral Fellow. In 2018, as a new faculty member at UT Health, she received both a School of Health Professions Pilot Grant and a Texas Society for Allied Health Professions Research Grant. Her research has been published in various peer-reviewed journals such as Brain Injury, American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, Military Medicine, Neuropsychologia and Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.Her research centers on improving the lives of individuals with concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). She primarily uses experimental methods to investigate cognitive-communication disorders after mTBI. During her KL2, Dr. Norman will use innovative methods such as discourse analysis and electroencephalogram (EEG) measures to richly characterize language output and shed light on the underlying cognitive mechanisms of language performance after mTBI. Dr. Norman aims to standardize assessment for mTBI-related communication disorders and use precise measurement to develop appropriate behavioral interventions to improve life participation for the mTBI population.

Amita Shah, MD PhD is an Assistant Professor and Associate Program Director for the Division of Plastic Surgery at UT Health San Antonio. She is a general plastic surgeon involved in breast reconstruction including breast microsurgery, oncologic and traumatic reconstruction, burn and complex wound reconstruction, and cosmetic breast surgery and body contouring. Her research interests are in the field of breast reconstruction outcomes, radiation injury, and tissue engineering and regenerative medicine with an emphasis in biomaterials.  Dr. Shah completed her Doctor of Medicine and General Surgery Residency at UT Health San Antonio and obtained her Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio in Biomedical Engineering. She completed her Plastic Surgery Residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

2018-2020 Cohort

Alex Bokov, PhD, in an Instructor/Researcher in the Clinical Informatics Research Division (CIRD) within the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. He completed his doctoral degree in Physiology, then subsequently completed a Masters of Science in Statistics and a postdoctoral fellowship in biostatistics and data science. Dr. Bokov's KL2 research  focuses on using predictive analytics of electronic medical records and other large data sources to understand disparities in progression and possibly incidence of kidney cancer among Hispanic patients relative to non-Hispanic white patients, as well as identifying potential geographic hot-spots of kidney cancer. His analytical approaches can translate to a broad range of other problems in poulation health, health services research, and healthcare economics. He hopes to facilitate more effective use of informatics in translational science by disseminating his work as open source software that extends the functionality of i2b2 data warehouses and by extension, of SHRINE networks such as CTSA ACT. Dr. Bokov has four years of experience in every aspect of managing a research data warehouse and is proficient in RPython and various dialects of SQL.

Joseph B. Cantey, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics within the Divisions of Neonatology & Allergy, Immunology, and Infectious Diseases.  Dr. Cantey completed his residency in pediatrics at John Hopkins before pursuing dual fellowship training at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in pediatric infectious diseases and neonatology. While Dr. Cantey's clinical interests include all aspects of neonatal infections (congential and perinatal infections, nursery infection control and prevention), his primary research focus is neonatal antibiotic stewardship. He has designed and evaluated the utility and safety of single-center and system-wide neonatal antibiotic stewardship programs. He also studied the association between prolonged or unnecessary antibiotic exposure and adverse outcomes in young infants. Dr. Cantey has published over 40 peer-reviewed papers, 20 book chapters, editorials, and invited reviews. He serves as editor for Neonatal Infections as well as Nelson's Pediatric Antimicrobial Therapy. Dr. Cantey is excited to continue his research into the creation and implementation of innovative strategies to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in neonates and young infants

John Moring, PhD

John Moring, PhD, is an Assistant Research Professor and a licensed clinical psychologist within the Department of Psychiatry. He completed his doctoral degree at the University of Wyoming in 2013. His research focus includes psychosocial factors that facilitate health-related behaviors, as well as the genesis and maintenance of tinnitus. He completed his pre-doctoral internship at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and San Diego VA Healthcare System. He later graduated from the STONG STAR Multidisciplinary PTSD Research Consortium Trauma Fellowship. During this fellowship he obtained extensive training in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the behavioral and emotional sequelae of traumatic brain injury related to blast exposure.  During his KL2 time, Dr. Moring will investigate the relationship between tinnitus-related distress and PTSD through cognitive-behavioral assessments and resting-state fMRI techniques. Additionally, he will examine changes in functional covariance among resting-state networks as a function of receiving empirically supported therapy for PTSD.

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