TL1 Scholars

TST - TL1 2021 Scholars
(July 2021 – June 2022)

Congratulations to Translational Science TL1 Trainee Afaf Saliba for being selected as this year's ACTS Outstanding Trainee: Predoctoral Scholar Award!












Below is a link to the video that was shown at the award ceremonies! 

Link to Afaf's Video





GSBS Convocation Pictures

TL1 Scholar Afaf Saliba

TL1 Scholar Noah Sanchez

Congratulations to all! 

Scholar: Kristi Dietert 

Degree Sought: Ph.D.                                                                                                                                          Program: Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine (CGM) Discipline of the Inegrated Biomedical Sciences (IBMS)                                                                                                                                                  Research Interest: Neurobiology of Aging Mentor: Naomi Sayre, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery 

Research Topic: LRP1 as a modulator of CXCR4 in hippocampal neurogenesis and neurodegeneration  

Kristi Dietert attended Texas Lutheran University as a PACE (Pacesetter Awards for College Excellence) scholar and Honors Program member. She graduated cum laude with a double major in Molecular Biology and Chemistry. After working in both industry and academic research, she began her pursuit of a PhD in Integrated Biomedical Science (IBMS) at UT Health SA in the fall of 2017. Since then, she has discovered her true passion in research – making progress toward a better understanding of brain aging so that better therapeutics for devastating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease may be developed. She joined the laboratory of Dr. Naomi Sayre in the Department of Neurosurgery for the variety of approaches the lab uses to address scientific questions along with its clinical resources. Her research is specifically focused on elucidating the mechanisms governing adult neurogenesis both in the context of naïve brain aging and recovery after injury to better understand how these processes may be harnessed for novel therapeutic strategies. In addition to her research, she is dedicated to doing her part to contribute to the continued betterment of the institution and her program. She has served as her discipline’s representative and chair of the IBMS Student Council, is a WIDOM (women in science) member, and has been a student representative in the Graduate Student Association, IBMS program director search committee and during the THECB program review meetings.

Scholar: Valentina Garbarino, Ph.D. 

Affiliation: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Glenn Biggs Inst. for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Interest:  Neurodegenerative disorders, Alzheimer’s disease, Neurobiology of Aging, Senescence, Therapeutic Interventions Mentors: Sudha Seshadri, M.D.; Mitzi M. Gonzales Ph.D.

Research Topic: Correlating blood markers of senescence, tau pathology and cognitive function in individuals with early Alzheimer's disease treated with senolytic therapy

Valentina Garbarino graduated with her doctoral degree from the UT Health San Antonio Biomedical Sciences Program in the Physiology and Pharmacology discipline in 2018, supported by a NIA sponsored Biology of Aging T32 Training Grant. Her thesis work was completed under the mentorship of Lynette Daws, Ph.D. and Georgianna Gould Ph.D., and utilizing mouse models, focused on the developmental and behavioral outcomes of perinatal exposure to medications including Prozac and metformin. Upon graduation she was awarded the Armand J. Guarino Award for academic excellence in doctoral studies. Valentina joined the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2019. Under the guidance of a carefully curated mentoring team, made up of experts in the field of neurodegenerative disease, her main research focus is identifying novel treatment mechanisms and therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and other related acquired cognitive impairments. Valentina began her postdoctoral training conducting preclinical studies to target senescent cells in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in mouse models of tauopathies, and is now contributing to the translation of these exciting studies into early pilot and phase II clinical trials exploring senolytic treatments for the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Scholar: Clare Murray

Degree Sought: Ph.D.                                                                                                                                          Program: Molecular Immunology & Microbiology                                                                                           Research Interest: Cancer Biology, Immunology Mentor: Tyler Curiel, M.D., MPH,  Department of Medicine /Hematology & Medical Oncology                                                                                                 

Research Topic: Pharmacologic PD-L1 depletion improves tumor response to DNA damage repair inhibitors and aPD-L1 through reduced tumor intracellular PD-L1 signals and non-canonical immune effects

Clare Murray is a fourth year student in the South Texas Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP). She graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Chemical Engineering in 2018 from the University of Texas at Austin. During her undergraduate studies, Clare studied under Dr. Hal Alper to study the genetic engineering of the oleaginous yeast Y. lipolytica for the production of polyketides. As a summer intern, she worked with Dr. Dario Marchetti at the Houston Methodist Research Institute to study the role of circulating tumor cells in melanoma and triple negative breast cancer brain metastasis. After graduating, Clare matriculated into the South Texas MSTP program and completed the first two years of medical school. She is now in her second year as a graduate student in the department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics under the mentorship of Dr. Tyler J. Curiel. Clare’s research in Dr. Curiel’s lab focuses on investigating tumor cell-intrinsic signals of PD-L1 and the potential to target these signals with novel PD-L1 depleting drugs. While tumor PD-L1 canonically signals to tumor infiltrating lymphocytes to evade anti-tumor immunity, PD-L1 also has tumor cell-intrinsic signals, including control of mTOR, autophagy, and tumor initiating (stem) cells. Clare’s work during her time as a TL1 scholar will focus on repurposing novel FDA-approved drugs to deplete tumor PD-L1, thus disrupting these signals and sensitizing drug-resistant tumors to select therapies with rapid translational potential.

Scholar: Raphael Reyes

Degree Sought: Ph.D.                                                                                                                                          Program: IBMS - Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics                                                                      Research Interest: Malaria, Immunology Mentor: Evelien Bunnik, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Molecular Genetics                                                                                   

Research Topic: In-depth analysis of broadly protective immune responses against the malaria parasite variant surface antigens responsible for cerebral malaria

Raphael Reyes is a third-year PhD candidate in the department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics. He graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology in 2017 from the University of California, Riverside. As an undergrad, Raphael studied the regulation of gene expression and chromatin structure in Plasmodium falciparum, the causative agent of malaria, in response to epigenetic drugs. After graduation, Raphael continued his research career at the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he was selected to participate in an NIH post baccalaureate research education program. In 2018, Raphael began his matriculation at UT Health San Antonio’s Integrated Biomedical Sciences PhD program. His dissertation work is under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Evelien Bunnik. During the Translational Science Training TL1 Award, Raphael’s research will focus on the identification and characterization of broadly protective immune responses against the malaria parasite antigen responsible for severe disease. Raphael’s work will involve the use of donor samples from individuals naturally infected with P. falciparum to study malaria specific B cells and their respective antibodies contributing to disease protection. His findings will facilitate the development of a vaccine against severe malaria by identifying the exact antigen epitopes that need to be targeted.

Scholar: Angelica Riojas, Ph.D.

Affiliation: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Radiation and Imaging Institute
Research Interest: Complex disease, functional genetics, integrated omics, MRI/MRS Imaging
Mentor: Geoffrey Clarke, PhD

Research Topic: Investigating the impact of maternal diet during pregnancy on their adult offspring’s metabolism using a nonhuman primate model.

Angelica joined Geoffrey Clarke’s laboratory as a postdoctoral research fellow after obtaining her doctoral degree from the Molecular Medicine and Translational Science program at Wake Forest University. Prior to her doctoral degree, Angelica attended Texas State University for her masters in biochemistry and bachelor in biology. As a doctoral student, Angelica utilized a baboon model to identify renal gene expression underling blood pressure in female primates. This work established the foundation for continued work with a nonhuman primate model of complex disease.

Angelica’s current project aims to investigate the impact of maternal diet during pregnancy on their adult offspring’s metabolism using a nonhuman primate model. Genetic network analysis will be performed on two key metabolic tissues: the liver and skeletal muscle. This project will relate gene expression from whole transcriptome sequencing with functional imaging via magnetic resonance spectroscopy in order to identify differences in underlying genetic mechanisms. Angelica hopes her research findings will lead to better and earlier metabolic disease interventions and possibly shift the outcomes for metabolic diseases in many individuals.

Scholar: Afaf Saliba

Degree Sought: Ph.D.                                                                                                                                          Program: IBMS - Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine                                                      Research Interest: Metabolic disorders, Diabetes, Chronic Kidney Disease Mentor:  Kumar Sharma, MD, FAHA, FASN; Professor, Chief of the Division of  Nephrology; Hillis Chair and Vice-Chair of Research at the Department of  Medicine; Director of Center for Renal Precision Medicine   

Research Topic: MDM2 pathways related to amino acid metabolites clinically altered in diabetic kidney disease

Afaf Saliba holds two bachelor's degrees and two master's degrees in Biology and Psychology. She won several chess competitions among Lebanese national universities. Afaf also earned multiple scholarships. After graduating from the American University of Beirut in 2017, she trained at Baylor College of Medicine at the Neurological Research Institute for a year. Then Afaf joined the Cellular and Integrative Physiology department as a visiting scientist at UT Health San Antonio. She finds her experience at UTHSCSA enriched with an inclusive culture.

Afaf is now a third-year Ph.D. candidate and seeks to become a successful and independent translational scientist in metabolic disorders. Her thesis project aims to decipher molecular and metabolic pathways in diabetic kidney disease based on large-scale data analysis of patients' samples. She is using mouse models in addition to the top-notch technology at the Center for Renal Precision Medicine. She is focusing on identifying appropriate therapeutics for diabetic nephropathy.

In addition to being a proud TL1 scholar, she currently serves as the Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Medicine (CGM) discipline students representative at the IBMS council. She also is a member of the American Society of Nephrology (ASN) and the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS). Afaf enjoys serving her community, and her motto is the UTHSCSA tag line: “We Make lives better”.

Scholar: Noah Sanchez

Degree Sought: Ph.D.                                                                                                                                          Program: Radiological Sciences - Medical Physics                                                                                  Research Interest: MRI, MRS, Metabolic Imaging Mentor: Geoffrey Clarke, Ph.D.: Chief, MRI Division/ Professor, Department of Radiology                                                                            

Research Topic: Quantification of high-energy phosphorus metabolites, intramyocellular lipids, and extramyocellular lipids using 31-P MRS, 1-H MRS, and MRI methods in human skeletal muscle

Noah Sanchez graduated from Rhodes College with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Physics. After his undergraduate studies, Noah worked as a medical physics assistant under medical physicists at Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute. Noah began his pursuit of a Ph.D. degree under Dr. Geoffrey Clarke at UT Health San Antonio in the Fall of 2020. His current focus is in using 31-Phosphorus and 1-Hydrgoen MRS and MRI methods to quantify metabolites that can be used in the diagnosis of metabolic diseases and conditions such as Type II Diabetes Mellitus as well as assessing sarcopenia in aged individuals and individuals that have undergone certain breast cancer therapies. Noah aims to use the knowledge and skills from this training program to relate his results in his various studies of MR physics directly to patients who are in need of accurate, precise, and in-vivo metabolic assessments.