Faculty

Fields of Study

The Faculty in the UNTHSC Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) have broad research interests across the biological and medical disciplines. The core faculty of the Program in Genetics teach in several of the GSBS core curriculum and program–specific courses. Generally, faculty serving as mentors or on student committees are active in the Institute for Molecular Medicine and the individual research centers within it: Center for Medical Genetics, Center for Cancer Research and Center for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases (insert links to Center and IMM website). Students in the Program in Genetics may choose to include faculty from any of the other Institutes, Centers or Colleges on their advisory committees. The core program faculty are listed below. Also see the list of Affiliated Faculty (add intra-page hyperlink) below for faculty names and research interests from other Programs. Many of these faculty, although their specialization is focused on particular areas in biomedical science, often address questions that have an inherent genetic component enabling students and mentors to craft highly valuable, interdisciplinary projects. Prospective students are highly encouraged to make contact with the Graduate Program Advisor  and our faculty to discuss mutual areas of research interest.

 

Core Program Faculty Research Interests

 

Michael S. Allen, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Director, Center for Medical Genetics

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Research in the Allen Laboratory focuses on microbiology of vector-borne diseases and microbiome-host studies of human and animal systems.  The former includes testing of all ticks submitted to the state of Texas for the presence of specific bacterial pathogens, and research into the factors influencing disease transmission and pathology.  Microbiome research includes investigation of complex bacterial communities and their interactions with a wide variety of hosts (humans, arthropod vectors of disease, etc.), defining factors that disrupt or support microbial community assembly and structure, exploring community dynamics in polymicrobial diseases of different organ systems (e.g. gut, lung), development of genetically engineered probiotics for the treatment of disease, and applications of microbiome research to problems in forensic science.

Robert Barber, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Executive Director

Institute of Molecular Medicine

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Research projects in Dr. Barber’s group include investigations of how DNA methylation and microRNA expression impact risk for neurodegeneration; efforts to use patterns of DNA variation to predict the age at onset of Alzheimer’s disease (AD); and scanning the intestinal microbiome to determine how an individual’s profile of gut bacteria may impact their cognitive ability as they age. I am also interested in AD pathophysiology among Mexican Americans and how disease mechanisms differ between members of this underrepresented ethnic group and Caucasians. Students in my lab are trained in the analysis of large genetic and biomarker data sets through collaborations with researchers at UNTHSC and other Texas Alzheimer’s Research & Care Consortium institutions as well as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Active collaborative projects are ongoing with Drs. O’Bryant, Allen, Hall, Cunningham and others at UNTHSC; Drs. Sohrabji and Miranda at Texas A&M Health Science Center; Drs. Huebinger and Reisch at UT Southwestern; Drs. Royall and Palmer at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and Drs. Wilhelmsen and Tilson at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Work in his lab is focused on personalized medicine. They are interested in how an individual’s genetic makeup, epigenetic profile and microbiome impact risk for disease, rate of disease progression or likelihood of responding to various treatment options. Our work is focused on neurodegeneration and dementia (primarily Alzheimer’s disease), but many of the tools and discoveries we make can be readily applied to other conditions and treatments.

Bruce Budowle, Ph.D

Professor

Director UNT Center for Human Identification

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Ranajit Chakraborty, Ph.D.

Professor

 

Dr. Chakraborty’s research involves four related but distinct areas of investigations. In the area of molecular population genetics and evolution, Dr. Chakraborty is working on intra- and inter-population variation of genome-wide genetic markers of different rates and patterns of mutations (e.g., Short Tandem Repeats, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms, Copy Number Variations, simple insertion/deletion polymorphisms, etc.) with an emphasis on how these types of markers assist in identifying underlying genetic risk of complex diseases (such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.). In addition, by devising statistically validated algorithms of combining data on these different markers, he also addresses questions of missing heritability, and genome-wide genetic risk scores for such diseases and how they impact characterizing gene-environment interactions.  Dr. Chakraborty’s research relates to developing individualized scores of health disparity using standard epidemiological data on heath disparity analyzed by technologies that he helped to develop multidimensional genomic score of disease risks.

Deanna Cross, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

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Dr. Cross’s research interests focus on translating genetic and genomic advances into patient care. Her projects include implementation of family health history tools for improvement of patient care, as well as creation of tools that explain genetic and genomic advances to diverse patient populations.  She is particularly interested in identifying and eliminating barriers to implementation of genetic and genomic medicine in populations that have been traditionally underrepresented in genomic research and medical testing. With rapidly growing fields such as epigenetics and genomic sequencing there is a need to determine the clinical utility of burgeoning tests.  Dr. Cross, utilizes large patient populations to interrogate real world applications for genetics in healthcare.  She is particularly interested in the correct application of genetic testing throughout a patient’s life from pre-conception through healthy aging.

Nicole Phillips

Assistant Professor

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Dr. Phillips’ research interests lie in the study of genetic interactions that contribute to one’s risk for developing complex, age-related diseases. The bulk of her wet lab work has focused on the role of mitochondrial genetics in the progression of late onset Alzheimer’s disease. She has investigated several indices of mitochondrial DNA integrity as related to disease progression using the longitudinal samples from the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium (TARCC). These studies have opened many avenues for further work in this space, which she is currently pursuing here at UNTHSC.  In addition to mitochondrial genetics, she has also worked extensively with whole genome data sets. Dr. Phillips served as one of the primary analysts in a genome wide association (GWA) analysis of the same TARCC Alzheimer’s disease cohort.  This work aimed to identify genomic regions that are associated with the blood-based biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease (Sid O’Bryant et al., 2011, Dementia and geriatric cognitive disorders) and regions associated with the mitochondrial DNA integrity indices established in her laboratory. Dr. Phillips continues to build on her prior work with TARCC, using both in silico and experimental approaches. While she has found her passion in the study of Alzheimer’s disease, she also looks forward to extending her skill set to the study of other age-related, complex diseases.  She is currently the Director of Genomics Research for the Osteopathic Research Center here at UNTHSC, where she oversees genetic testing for PRECISION TEXAS, a North Texas low-back pain registry.

John V. Planz, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Graduate Program Advisor

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Dr. Planz’s research interests are in the areas of molecular evolutionary genetics and population genetics applications for studying inter- and intra-specific diversity and the effects of admixture on energy metabolism, genetic diseases and the genetics aspects of health disparities. Dr. Planz’s lab is currently optimizing approaches related to Nanopore sequencing which allow for long read (>10KB) direct sequencing of genomic DNA. These methods will allow for direct phasing of polymorphisms in gene regions, exon/intron junctions and recombination hotspots. These approaches are being applied to mitochondrial genome studies, microbial genome characterization and evaluation of recombination signatures and their biomedical impact in admixed populations, especially Hispanics.

Joseph E. Warren, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Graduate Advisor: FGEN

Dr. Warren’s main research interests include the following: Mitochondrial DNA mutation rate analysis and implications for human identity testing; Metal ions and their effect as PCR inhibitors; Improvements in DNA testing methods for increased recovery and quality of DNA extracts from skeletal remains; and Training methods for Bloodstain Pattern Analysis.

Yan Zhang, Ph.D.

Research Assistant Professor

Dr. Zhang has interests in how the microbiome and host interact in health and disease. Her projects include tick microbiome and disease associated human microbiome, using genomic and metagenomic approaches to investigate the microbiome dynamics and understand its role in disease development (such as tick born disease, Phenylketonuria, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation after severe injury and etc). Dr. Zhang provides services for Next Generation Sequencing using IonTorrent and Miseq platform. She also develops bioinformatics and statistical tools for metagenomic analysis.

 

This page was last modified on September 26, 2017