FY23 New Investigator Grant Awardees

July 7, 2023 • REAP News

Tara Tovar Vidales Headshot

Tara Tovar – Vidales, PhD
Recipient of the New Investigator Grant Program

“Comparative Analysis of MicroRNAs in the Optic Nerve Head Between
Individuals of African and European Descent”

Bio: Dr. Tara Tovar-Vidales is an instructor in the Department of Physiology and Anatomy at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. She earned her B.S. in Biology from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, TX. She continued her education at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, TX, where she obtained both her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Dr. Tovar-Vidales’ research centers around understanding the process of glaucomatous remodeling of the optic nerve head in the human eye.

Current Project: Glaucoma is a primary cause of visual impairment and blindness globally. Individuals of African descent are more susceptible to glaucoma than those of European descent, although reasons for this disparity remain unclear. The major site of damage is at the back of the eye, a region called the optic nerve head. Current therapies for slowing vision loss are either ineffective or not conducive to prolonged treatment. The focus of this project is to investigate the role of microRNAs in the optic nerve head cells among individuals of African ancestry in comparison to those of European descent. Our goal is to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms leading to optic nerve head damage in glaucoma patients, specifically in individuals of African descent.

 Eul Hyun Suh Pic

Eul Hyun Suh , PhD
Recipient of the New Investigator Grant Program

“Non-invasive imaging of pancreatic β-cell function by zinc responsive MRI”

Bio: Dr. Eul Hyun Suh is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the College of Pharmacy. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2019. Following that, she pursued postdoctoral fellowship training at the Advanced Imaging Research Center, located at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Her research aims to utilize cutting-edge molecular imaging tools to investigate and visualize metabolic changes associated with diseases, particularly focusing on diabetes and cancer.

Current Project: Regulated glucose-stimulated insulin secretion (GSIS) by pancreatic β-cell functions is essential for maintaining blood glucose homeostasis but becomes impaired in diabetes mellitus, particularly in type 2 diabetes. In β-cell granules, insulin is stored along with excess Zn2+ ions. Upon stimulation of β-cells by an increase in blood glucose, the exocytosis of insulin granules could lead to the release of these Zn2+ ions into the extracellular space surrounding the islets. Given that glucose-stimulated insulin/zinc secretion (GSZS) is a critical feature of normal β-cell operation, comprehending the pathological processes that result in its dysfunction is a critical challenge. This project focus on accomplishing non-invasive in vivo imaging of β-cell function by utilizing a Zn2+ responsive MR sensor. This Real-time in vivo imaging of pancreatic β-cell function through GSZS can provide insights into underlying biological mechanisms involved in the decline of β-cell function during the development of type 2 diabetes. Additionally, this approach allows for longitudinal monitoring of type 2 diabetes progression in a non-invasive manner, while also assessing the potential of novel drugs to restore β-cell function in rodents.

Heads Up On Wednesday, February 19, 2020. Photo By Joyce Marshall

George Farmer, PhD
Recipient of New Investigator Grant Program

“Impaired autonomic balance in a rat model of diastolic heart failure”

Bio: Dr. George “Gef” Farmer is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Physiology and Anatomy at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. He completed his B.S. in neuroscience and Ph.D. in cognition and neuroscience at the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Farmer’s research investigates neural contributions to the control of heart rate and blood pressure in both healthy and pathological states.

Current Project:Diastolic heart failure, or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF), is associated with exercise intolerance and poor control of heart rate during periods of increased metabolic demand. While current treatments are limited a class of type 2 diabetes medications (sodium-glucose cotransport type 2 inhibitors, SGLT2i) have shown promise as a therapy for HFpEF. This project investigates the efficacy of SGLT2i in improving exercise tolerance and neural control of cardiovascular function in a rat model of HFpEF.