Alum helps good science find financial backers

By Betsy Friauf

UNT-HSC-grad-web

During four years earning her PhD in the Visual Science Graduate Program, Jaclyn Bermudez received prestigious awards for her dedication to research into how glaucoma robs millions of people of their eyesight. Now she’s taking her visionary reach to the next level by launching a career matching dollars with promising research. For nearly a year she has served as Director of Scientific Investment at the Western Commerce Group, just half a mile from UNT Health Science Center. “On Aug. 19, 2016, I defended my dissertation, and on Aug. 22 I started the job,” Dr. Bermudez said. She credits Abe Clark, PhD, one of her major professors, with introducing her to her future employer.

Seeking glaucoma answers

Her other major professor, Weiming Mao, PhD, praised her work with the North Texas Eye Research Institute, noting that she won 16 awards at the university, national and international levels and published eight peer-reviewed papers during her academic studies. During 2017 Commencement, she received the UNT System Chancellor’s Award for Scholarly Excellence in Research. Dr. Bermudez researched what is called the trabecular meshwork, a tissue in the front of the eye that is involved in the pathology of glaucoma. Her research focused on understanding how and why some people develop the disease, which afflicts about 3 million Americans and is the second leading cause of blindness globally, according to the World Health Organization. At Western Commerce Group, she works to improve decision-making on where to invest research money. “Too often, good science gets stuck before it gets invested in,” Dr. Bermudez said. “I’m in a position now to help others in the firm understand the science. “With glaucoma, for the past 20 years, most traditional research has focused on decreasing the pressure inside the eye, but we want to find ways to restore certain cells in the retina.”

Serving others first

A beneficiary of programs designed to encourage and support underrepresented groups, she has made it a priority to give back. As an undergraduate in the Minority Access to Research Careers program at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Dr. Bermudez was introduced to UNTHSC’s J.K. Vishwanatha, PhD. He told her about Minority Opportunities in Research and Education (MORE), funded by the National Institutes of Health and designed to ease the transition from undergraduate to graduate studies through academic and financial support. Dr. Bermudez came to UNTHSC the summer after finishing her bachelor’s degree and took Introduction to Biochemistry and a lab rotation. She discovered that UNTHSC’s Hispanic Student Organization had become inactive. She knew of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) from her undergrad days and set about establishing a chapter at UNTHSC. “Professor Eric B. Gonzales is a lifetime member of SACNAS and helped us start a UNTHSC chapter,” Dr. Bermudez said. She is most proud of SACNAS’ work in mentoring elementary and high school students via programs like Academy 4, in which a student and a professional mentor a fourth-grade student. Another SACNAS project is the anatomy program, Mentors for Life. “The middle school kids get hands-on experience in activities like dissecting cow eyeballs, and they learn about additional careers,” Dr. Bermudez said. “They come in knowing about physicians, nurses, physical therapists and so on, but many don’t know that they could become doctors of biomedical sciences and what kind of work they can do.” Bermudez remains active in Big Brothers Big Sisters. “Many people helped me get where I am,” she says. “I didn’t do it on my own.”

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