TL1 Scholars

TST-TL1 2019 Scholars
(July 2019 – June 2020)

Scholar: Sadiya Ahmad
Degree Sought: Ph.D.
Program: IBMS/Cell, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine
Research Interest: Neuroscience, Cell Biology
Mentor: Naomi Sayre, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery
Research Topic: Astrocyte LRP1 as a Novel Modulator of Stroke Outcome






Sadiya graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University Texas Pan American, now known as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, with a Bachelors of Science degree. Sadiya’s passion for community engagement began when she joined Teach For America. She taught Chemistry and Physics to an under-served population of high school students during her two-year commitment in the Rio Grande Valley. In an effort to combine her newfound love for teaching and zeal for science, she spent a year at the University of Houston (UH) in a Post-Baccalaureate program while working as a science tutor at the UH Learning Support Services. She joined the laboratory of Dr. Bradley McConnell and studied the role of scaffolding proteins on cardiac signaling and heart disease. Since her acceptance into the Integrated Biomedical Sciences PhD program, Sadiya has joined the laboratory of Dr. Naomi Sayre in the Department of Neurosurgery. The focus of her research is to understand the molecular mechanisms that affect repair and recovery post- stroke. She has a keen interest in studying astrocytes, the primary supporting cell in the brain, and the role they play in regulating homeostasis under normal and pathological conditions. Sadiya was awarded the Translational Science Training TL1 Award in 2017 and 2018, which allowed her to enhance the quality and scope of the doctoral research by experiencing additional interdisciplinary research training and mentorship in Translational Science. In 2018, Sadiya received the Presidential Ambassador of Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Award. In addition to enhancing her scientific career, Sadiya has simultaneously dedicated time serving the San Antonio community. She has continued her role in Teach For America as an alumna where she attends meetings and workshops to promote and support educational equity throughout San Antonio. She has also been actively involved in community outreach events such as judging high school science fairs, volunteering with the American Heart Association, and shadowing at Reeves Rehabilitation Center at University Hospital.

Scholar: Yan Du, Ph.D, MPH, RN
Department: School of Nursing
Research Interest: Precision Health, Management of Diabetes and Comorbidities, Aging in Place, and Health Disparities
Mentor: Jing Wang, PhD, MPH, RN; Professor and Vice Dean for Research, School of Nursing
Research Topic:

Response to an Individualized and Digital Enhanced Lifestyle Intervention in Diabetes Patients with and without Diabetic Kidney Disease: A Precision Health Approach








Yan Du received her bachelor’s degree in Nursing. While working as a registered nurse, she witnessed many patients suffer from reduced quality of life and significantly shortened lifespans due to severe chronic conditions. This experience drives her to dedicate her life to prevention and management of chronic diseases. To fulfill this goal, in 2010, she began graduate school at Tulane University, and received her master’s degree in Public Health, and Ph.D. in Aging Studies. She is now a postdoctoral fellow in the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing. Centering on health technologies and individualized behavior intervention, her research focuses on translational research on health disparities, aging in place, and chronic diseases and aging (e.g., diabetes and its comorbidities), with a precision health approach integrating social environment, behaviors, and omics

Scholar: Benjamin T. Enslow, M.D.
Department: Medicine
Research Interest: Mitochondrial Biology, Cell Signaling
Mentor: Madesh Muniswamy, MS, PhD; Long Endowed Professor in Medicine, Dept. of Medicine, Division of Nephrology
Research Topic: Control of Mitochondrial Shape Transition (MiST) through use of cytoskeletal drugs






In 2014, Benjamin Enslow completed a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with honors at Schreiner University in Kerrville, Texas, and earned in M.D. in 2019 from the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. Benjamin’s research interests center on defining and exploiting cellular signaling pathways in human disease states. He spent his first three years of medical school investigating the regulatory role of calmodulin and phosphoinositides in the operation of neuronal voltage-gated potassium channels, work which has translational implications for the treatment of epilepsy and traumatic brain injury. Benjamin spent his fourth year of medical school conducting bench work into microtubule dynamics and cancer pharmacology. During this period, he aided in the development of a novel high-throughput screening assay for classifying subtypes of triple negative breast cancer. Benjamin is currently a post-doctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Madesh Munsiwamy, in the Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology, at UT Health San Antonio. His current work is focused on mitochondrial biology and calcium signaling pathways that underlie many physiologic and pathophysiologic conditions. Specifically, Benjamin is interested in therapeutics that alter the cytoskeletal architecture and influence mitochondrial function, with the goal to test the effectiveness of such therapies in protecting cells from ischemic-reperfusion injury during organ transplantation.

Scholar: Myrna Garcia
Degree Sought: M.D./Ph.D.
Program: Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics
Research Interest: Tumor Immunology
Mentor: Tyler J. Curiel, M.D., MPH, Professor, Department of Medicine
Research Topic: Improving cancer response to immune checkpoint blockade in aged hosts







Myrna Garcia graduated from the University of Houston in 2015 where she earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Mexican-American Studies. After graduating, Myrna worked at Baylor College of Medicine performing research focused on improving education and access to nutritional foods in low socio-economic households. In 2016, Myrna matriculated into the UT Health San Antonio MSTP and began medical school where she held leadership positions in organizations such as The American Medical Women’s Association and was also involved in the global health program through The Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics. Myrna is a rising 2nd year PhD student in the Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics track under the tutelage of Dr. Tyler Curiel. Her research focuses on improving efficacy of cancer immunotherapy agents such as immune checkpoint blockade in aged hosts.

Scholar: Cassandra Leonardo
Degree Sought: M.D./Ph.D.
Program: Radiological Sciences
Research Interest: Neuroimaging, Age-related Cognitive Disorders, Imaging Genetics

Peter T. Fox, MD; Director, Research Imaging Institute

Research Topic: Genetic Influence over Age-related Functional Connectivity Changes within the Default Mode Network in a Mexican-American Extended Pedigree Cohort







Cassandra Leonardo graduated from New York University in 2012, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Neural Science with a minor in Philosophy. Cassandra then worked as a Research Associate at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California under the direction of Dr. Paul Thompson, where she was heavily involved in two of the world’s largest neuroimaging studies including the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI) and the Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics Through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) Consortium. In 2014, Cassandra entered the MSTP program at the University of Texas Health Science Center to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. She is currently working in Dr. Peter Fox’s lab investigating the extent of genetic influence over age-related functional connectivity changes within the default mode network in a Mexican-American extended pedigree cohort.   

Scholar: Holly Parenica
Degree Sought: Ph.D.
Program: Radiological Sciences - Medical Physics
Research Interest: Monte Carlo Modeling, Dose Calculation Algorithms, Quality Assurance
Mentor: Sotirios Stathakis, Ph.D. Professor/Clinical and Associate Chief of Medical Physics Division
Research Topic: Clinical Implementation of Monte Carlo Modeling of the ELEKTA Versa HD with Agility Collimator Head






Holly Parenica graduated with a BS in Radiological Health Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2016 as an Undergraduate Research Scholar.  She began her graduate studies in 2016 in the Radiological Sciences Program at UT Health San Antonio and is pursuing a Ph.D. in Medical Physics.  Holly is performing her dissertation research under Dr. Sotirios Stathakis at the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.  Her research interests include radiation dose calculation algorithms, adaptive radiotherapy, patient specific quality assurance, and advanced treatment planning techniques.  She was awarded a position as a Pre-doctoral Fellow in the UTHSCSA Cancer Research Training Program supported by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas from 2018-2019.  In 2019 she was awarded the Translational Science Training TL1 Award.  Holly served two years as the student representative for the Radiological Sciences Committee on Graduate Studies.  She is an active member of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine where she currently serves as the secretary of the Student and Trainees Subcommittee.

Scholar: Grace Porter
Degree Sought: Ph.D.
Program Integrated Biomedical Sciences/ Neuroscience
Research Interest: Role of BDNF-TrkB signaling in regulating microglia and neuroinflammation

Jason O'Connor, Ph.D., Associate Professor with Tenure, Department of Pharmacology

Research Topic: The Role of BDNF-TrkB signaling in regulating inflammation-induced microglia activation and depressivelike behaviors in a mouse model







Grace graduated from Kent State University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Neuroscience in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program at UT Health San Antonio in the laboratory of Dr. Jason O’Connor. Her research project focuses on the role of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in mediating the behavioral and metabolic effects of neuroinflammation. In addition to performing her dissertation research, Grace has held student leadership positions as the Neuroscience Representative on the IBMS Student Council and as Treasurer and President of Women in Science: Development, Outreach, and Mentorship (WISDOM).