HSC Dual Degree student Dianna Nguyen awarded highly prestigious NIH Fellowship

By Steven Bartolotta

Hsc Student Dianna H. Nguyen WebDianna H. Nguyen, a DO/PhD candidate at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, has been awarded the F30 Dual Doctoral-Degree, Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Nguyen received the highly competitive fellowship for her research project titled, “The Role of Estrogen Receptors and Neurohypophyseal Gene Expression in Vasopressin Release in a Model of Dilutional Hyponatremia.”

Nguyen, who has completed her first two years at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine and is currently on the PhD portion of her studies with the School of Biomedical Sciences, is the first HSC student to receive an F30 Fellowship.

“I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and for the incredible support I received from my mentors, peers, faculty and staff at HSC, not just with the F30 process, but throughout my whole DO/PhD journey,” said Nguyen.

The fellowship will provide Nguyen with training for her research project, professional development and will help cover her tuition and fees for the remainder of her PhD training and final two years of medical school with TCOM.

“Dianna is an exceptional student who took on a challenging project on the cutting edge of our field,” said her mentor, Dr. Tom Cunningham, a UNT Regents Professor and Associate Vice President for Research Administration. “Her dedication in the laboratory and the quality of her work made this award possible. This fellowship will support her as she finishes her part of this project and will hopefully help her compete for the kind of residency program that she wants to continue her training and achieve her career goals.”

The research project that Nguyen is conducting involves studying a hormone that causes the body to retain water, called vasopressin.

The system that controls vasopressin release is altered in some people with heart and liver disease. Too much vasopressin is released in these patients, it dilutes their body fluids, and patients with this body fluid balance problem do not survive long, Dr. Cunningham said.

He also noted his lab has been studying why this happens since 2005. This fellowship will allow Nguyen to conduct experiments to help answer some of these key questions. She is using a new technique that combines traditional neuroanatomy with modern genomics to solve the problem.

“One of the many exciting things about my project is that I will be using a novel technique called spatial transcriptomics, which allows researchers to map gene expression from a tissue sample without sacrificing morphological context, to answer some of my research questions,” said Nguyen. “This technique was named Nature’s Method of the Year in 2020. As a side note, this also gave me the opportunity to collaborate with our HSC Genomics Core, which handled the sequencing aspects of the technique.”

The fellowship will also give Nguyen the ability to increase her skills in a diverse range of research techniques and experimental design as well as improve her scientific communication skills. All these will be necessary as she follows her dream of becoming a physician-scientist and ultimately pursuing a career in academic medicine.

In addition to her research and medical school training, Nguyen spent a year on the UNT System Board of Regents as a Student Regent from 2020-21. She is expected to return to TCOM for rotations in the summer of 2022 and graduate with her Dual Degree in May of 2024.

“This all still feels like a dream because of how highly competitive NIH fellowships are, and I am honored for the opportunity to show some DO representation. I feel so blessed to be a student at HSC and be part of one of the few DO/PhD programs,” said Nguyen.  

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