Genetics expert earns rare honor as UNT System Regents Professor
Jamboor K. “JK” Vishwanatha, PhD, last month became only the fifth Regents Professor at UNTHSC in its 45-year history. The UNT System Board of Regents has named fewer than four dozen in the past 27 years, in a system that serves 45,000 students on three campuses.
Dr. Vishwanatha is UNTHSC Professor of Molecular and Medical Genetics and Special Assistant to the Provost for Minority Affairs. Last month he also was honored at a Baltimore conference as a national role model in mentoring people from diverse backgrounds in research professions.
“In addition to ethnic diversity, innovation is needed in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation and disability,” he said.
He noted that the demographics of the biology faculty in the United States haven’t changed in 30 years, and the National Institutes of Health, a major source of grant money, has instituted new programs to address the problem.
“In Texas, by 2040 we will need many more biomedical and behavioral scientists of different backgrounds, and we are not on track to reach that goal,” Dr. Vishwanatha said.
Diversity is one of Dr. Vishwanatha’s three most urgent missions.
Research is another way he helps create healthier communities. He has brought large grants to UNTHSC to study the biology of breast and prostate cancer. He is in the forefront of nanotechnology, discovering new tools to deliver medications. He received two patents this year, and his doctoral and post-doctoral students publish in prominent journals.
Education is Dr. Vishwanatha’s other passion. He has trained a number of students who have taken prominent positions at prestigious organizations. He’s currently training four PhD students.
Recommending Dr. Vishwanatha for the Regents Professor distinction, professors at important universities praised his work and talents. He “puts aside his own ego to work as the consummate leader,” wrote David Burgess, PhD, Boston College Biology Professor and a leader of the National Research Mentoring Network.
Dr. Vishwanatha “developed an extensive network of partners around the country who are committed to diversifying the biomedical workforce,” wrote Kolawole S. Okuyeme, MD, MPH, University of Minnesota Medical School.
UNTHSC Provost Thomas Yorio, PhD, praised “his outstanding contributions to this institution.”
Two other Regents Professors at UNTHSC are Michael Forster, PhD, Chairman and Professor, Center for Neuroscience Discovery; and Robert Mallet, PhD, Professor in the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders. In addition, Fred Downey, PhD, is Emeritus Regents Professor. He served as Vice Chair, Department of Integrative Physiology, and Principal Investigator, Osteopathic Research Center. The late Dr. Ben Harris also was a Regents Professor.