Six Researchers Honored at Annual Research Awards Day

October 2, 2006

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Six researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine were recognized during the 10th annual Research Awards Day on Sept. 26. Following lectures by the recipients, awards were presented by Richard H. Dean, M.D., president and CEO of Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

The New Investigator Award honors researchers who have made significant contributions to scientific literature and who have the potential for an outstanding career as a scientist. This year’s honorees were:

These “opportunistic” infections occur when people have excess mucus in their airways, as occurs in adults with chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, or in children whose middle ear drainage is impaired. Swords focuses on learning how bacteria take hold and grow under these conditions, in hopes that treatments can be improved.

Swords, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, is a graduate of Auburn University. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and completed fellowships at the Centers for Disease Control and the University of Iowa.

A current study is to develop and test strategies for preventing HIV within the local Hispanic immigrant community. Although Hispanics represent only 14 percent of the U.S. population, they accounted for 20 percent of new AIDS cases in 2004. Rhodes is working with community partners to train members of an adult Hispanic men’s soccer league to become lay health advisers so they can educate other Hispanics about HIV prevention and testing. The study involves 30 soccer teams from a multi-county area.

Rhodes, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy, is a graduate of the College of William and Mary. He received a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina School of Public Health and his Ph.D., from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. He completed a post-doctoral training fellowship at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.

The Mid-Career Investigator Award goes to researchers who have between seven and 15 years of faculty research experience, who have developed outstanding research programs and who have received a high level of national and international recognition. The honorees were:

Nader’s findings, in animals, show a significant correlation between the number of receptors in part of the brain for the neurotransmitter dopamine – measured before cocaine use begins – and the rate at which the animal will later self-administer the drug. He has also shown that the environment contributes to cocaine use – with animals in a less stressful, more “enriched” environment being less vulnerable to cocaine use.

Nader, a professor of physiology and pharmacology, is a graduate of Wayne State University and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. He completed a fellowship at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.

Xu and colleagues have identified several chromosomal regions that they believe are the locations of genes that can increase prostate cancer risk for some men. The finding puts researchers closer to being able to predict disease risk in individual men. Xu and colleagues have also established that inflammation plays an important role in the development of prostate cancer. Currently, they are pioneering methods to efficiently search the entire human genome for cancer genes.

Xu, a professor of epidemiology, earned a medical degree and master’s degree from Shanghai Medical University. He completed master’s and doctoral degrees in public health at Johns Hopkins University.

The Established Investigator Award honors internationally recognized faculty members who have established an important research program that has shaped or furthered a field of discipline and who have contributed significantly to the research environment of the school and the nation. The honorees were:

Judy K. Brunso-Bechtold, Ph.D. – Established Investigator in Basic Sciences. The goal of her work is to identify changes in brain cells that occur with aging or whole-brain radiation and that result in memory and learning deficits. Her goal is to understand these changes so preventive treatments can be developed.

Brunso-Bechtold conducts animal studies that focus on the structure of cells, including the synapses, or gaps between cells that are involved in cell-to-cell communication. She is currently exploring findings that receptors for glutamate – a neurotransmitter, or brain chemical involved in cell-to-cell communication – change in composition as a result of aging and whole-brain irradiation and those changes seem to be associated with cognition deficits.

Brunso-Bechtold, a professor of neurobiology and anatomy, is a graduate of Duke University. She completed master’s and doctoral degrees at Florida State University and fellowships at Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

L. Andrew Koman, M.D. – Established Investigator in Clinical Sciences. Koman was the first in the country to use Botulinum toxin to treat spasticity in the legs and feet of children with cerebral palsy. His research led to worldwide use of the treatment. He is currently using the drug to treat spasticity in the arms and hands and exploring other musculoskeletal uses, such as in rotator cuff repairs to protect the tendon while it heals.

Koman also developed one of two laboratories in the country to study circulation in very small blood vessels. Through this research, he developed a new technique for treating Raynaud’s syndrome, a condition that causes periods of severely restricted blood flow to the fingers, toes and sometimes other parts of the body.

Koman, a professor of orthopaedic surgery, is a graduate of Duke University. He completed his medical degree at Duke’s School of Medicine and did his internship, residency and a fellowship at the Duke University Medical Center. His is board certified in orthopaedic surgery and hand surgery.

“The research of these award winners is emblematic of the deep and excellent research under way at our institution,” said William B. Applegate, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.P., dean and senior vice president.


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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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