TL1 Scholars

TST-TL1 2017 Scholars
(July 2017 – June 2018)

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, 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 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 and joined LEE, Leadership for Educational Equity. 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 high school science fairs and “science night” at elementary schools. Every year, she leads a workshop for high school science teachers at the VBTA (Voelcker Biosciences Teacher Academy) Annual Conference. Most recently, she was received the Presidential Ambassador of Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Award.

Scholar: Jennifer Donegan Ph.D
Department: Pharmacology
Research Interest: Neuroscience, Schizophrenia
Mentor: Daniel J. Lodge, Ph.D; Associate Professor with Tenure, Department of Pharmacology
Research Topic:

Contibution of hippocampal projections to discrete symptoms of schizophrenia

Jennifer Donegan graduated from Texas Christian University in 2006 with a BS in Psychology and Advertising. In 2008, she began graduate school at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Working in the laboratory of Dr. David Morilak, she studied the role of neuro-immune signaling in cognitive deficits associated with psychiatric disease. After graduating with a PhD in 2014, she joined Dr. Daniel Lodge’s laboratory as a post-doctoral fellow. Currently, she is researching the role of neural circuits in the development of schizophrenia symptoms. 

Scholar: Aparna Gorthi Ph.D
Department: Cell Systems & Anatomy, Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute
Research Interest: Systems Biology of Cancer, Integrative Cancer Research, Machine learning for Bioinformatics,
DNA Damage Response and DNA Repair, Pediatric Cancers,Targeted therapy
Mentor: Yidong Chen, Ph.D, Professor/Co-Director of CTRC Next-Generation Sequencing Shared Resource
Research Topic:
Using Deep Neural Networks to Predict Drug Response using Integrated Genome-wide Molecular Profiles of Pediatric Tumors






Dr. Aparna Gorthi received her PhD from the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology at the University of Texas Health San Antonio in 2015. Under the guidance of Dr. Alex Bishop, her doctoral work identified aberrant transcription, accumulation of R-loops and altered BRCA1 function in Ewing sarcoma. Prior to entering graduate school, Aparna worked in Philips Research Asia-Bangalore, India as a computational biologist evaluating epigenetic datasets and automating pregnancy risk assessment.  Aparna has been highly successful in her research endeavors with several publications (including a first author publication in Nature) and winning several awards including the Susan Naylor award for excellence in postdoctoral studies and the Ann Hollocher and Elkes foundation travel scholarships. She has also been extremely competitive in securing both intramural and extramural funding including fellowships from CPRIT, the NIH and AACR. Aparna is currently pursuing postdoctoral training in computational biology in Dr. Yidong Chen’s lab. Her research work is focused on developing machine learning frameworks to predict drug response of pediatric cancers based on molecular profiles.

Scholar: Eithan Kotkowski
Degree Sought: M.D./Ph.D.
Program: Radiology/Neuroscience Imaging
Research Interest: Metabolic Syndrome and Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Mentor: Peter T. Fox, M.D.; Director, Research Imaging Institute
Research Topic: Identifying a neural signature of metabolic syndrome using magnetic resonance imaging






Eithan Kotkowski graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2011 where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. After graduating from college, Eithan joined the Texas Teaching Fellows program and worked as a dual-language 2nd grade school teacher at LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary in south Austin, TX. He matriculated to the UT Health San Antonio’s MD/PhD program in the summer of 2013 where, aside from doing research, he has held leadership positions in school-wide interdisciplinary organizations such as the Friends of the P.I. Nixon library History of Medicine Society and Frontera de Salud. Eithan has also written the manual and currently teaches the Medical Spanish course affiliated with the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics. As a 6th year MD/PhD student, Eithan is completing his final year of graduate school in the Radiological Science’s Neuroscience Imaging track under the tutelage of Dr. Peter T. Fox at the Research Imaging Institute. His research focuses on using MRI techniques to identify neurobiological biomarkers in brains of individuals diagnosed with or at risk for type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity to further characterize the genetic, neurological and cognitive challenges affecting this growing population.

Scholar: Liesl Lawrence
Degree Sought: Ph.D
Program: Integrated Biomedical Sciences/ Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine
Research Interest: Cancer Biology

Alexander J.R. Bishop, D. Phil, Cell Systems and Anatomy/GCCRI

Research Topic: Transcription, R-loops, and RNA Splicing in Ewing Sarcoma






Liesl Lawrence graduated summa cum laude from The Master’s University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Cell and Molecular Biology.  She is currently pursuing her PhD in Integrated Biomedical Sciences in the discipline of Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine at UT Health San Antonio. She is performing her dissertation research in the laboratory of Dr. Alexander Bishop at the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute. Her project is focused on understanding and targeting altered regulation of transcription and splicing in Ewing sarcoma.  Liesl’s long-term research goal is to study molecular mechanisms of pediatric cancer development with the goal of identifying new therapeutic targets.

Scholar: Ryan Reyes
Degree Sought: M.D./Ph.D
Program: Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences/Infection, Inflammation, and Immunity
Research Interest: Tumor Immunology
Mentor: Tyler J. Curiel, M.D., MPH, Professor, Department of Medicine
Research Topic: Organ-specific effects of tumor PD-L1 in bladder cancer immunotherapy outcomes





Ryan Reyes graduated Magna cum Laude from the University of Arkansas-Monticello in 2014, where he earned Bachelor of Science degrees in both Biology and Chemistry. He then joined the NIH Post Baccalaureate Research Education Program at Yale University where he investigated the interactions of oncogene-specific targeted therapies and immunotherapies in lung cancer. Ryan is now pursuing MD and PhD degrees as a member of the South Texas Medical Scientist Training Program. He is currently training in the lab of Dr. Tyler Curiel and studies how distinct immune microenvironments influence tumor responsiveness to immunotherapy.

Scholar: Gabrille Zuniga
Degree Sought: M.D./Ph.D
Program Neuroscience
Research Interest: Alzheimer's disease, tauopathy, neurodegeneration
Mentor: Bess Frost, Ph.D, Assistant Professor, Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies
Research Topic: Deficits in nonsense-mediated RNA decay contribute to neurodegeneration in tauopathy

Gabbe Zuniga was a 2015 Dean’s Honored graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Honors Biology. As a Dean’s and Polymathic scholar at UT Austin, Gabbe completed two honors theses based on her work in Dr. Jon Pierce-Shimomura’s lab investigating the therapeutic efficacy of sigma-2-receptor/progesterone receptor membrane component 1-targeted ligands to improve neurodegeneration in a C. elegans model of Alzheimer’s disease. She then joined the MD/PhD program at the University of Texas Health Science Center to pursue a career as a physician-scientist. Gabbe finished her first two years of medical school and is currently pursuing a PhD in the Neuroscience track of the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program.  She is working in Dr. Bess Frost’s lab investigating the role of nonsense-mediated RNA decay in the context of neurodegenerative diseases using fly models.