Student Publications, Presentations and Awards

Talisa Silzer  selected for Reviewer’s Choice Award and Poster Talk at ASHG

Talisa Ashg 2019

Talisa Silzer (rising 2nd year Ph.D. student) was selected for both a Reviewer’s Choice Award (top 10%) and Poster Talk (top 1%) for her abstract titled; Hypermethylation of mitochondrial tRNA p9 sites in the cerebellum of Alzheimer’s disease and progressive supranuclear palsy patients.  She will be presenting the results of this project at the 2019 American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting in October, and she is submitting the manuscript for publication this month.

Congratulations Talisa!





Gita Pathak defended her dissertation project which focused on the comorbidity patterns observed with Alzheimer’s disease.


Gita Defense 2019

Gita joined UNTHSC in 2015 and advanced to candidacy after receiving distinction in her Oral Qualifying and Research Proposal and on August 6th 2019, received distinction for her Dissertation entitled: Genetic characterization of comorbidity patterns in aging associated diseases using integrative genomics.  Ms. Pathak has received numerous awards during her doctoral studies including Health Science Innovation Award at Annual NBA Symposium (2018), Texas Higher Education Grant and was a pre-finalist for the MiHero predoctoral fellowship. She was also selected as a pre-doctoral fellow for the NIH-T32 Neurobiology of Aging (2017-18).She received full scholarship to attend the 23rd Statistical Genetics Summer Institute at University of Washington, Seattle. In March 2017, she was voted ‘Valubility of the Month’ by Career Services, Division of Student Affairs. She was also the recipient of UNTHSC General Scholarship, GSBS Travel Scholarships and Outstanding Graduate Student in Genetics (2018-19).

Ms. Pathak accepted postdoctoral associate position at Yale University, School of Medicine in February 2019. She will be under the mentorship of Dr. Renato Polimanti, studying genetic traits underlying psychiatric disorders ‒ polysubstance addiction.

Congratulations, Gita!!

Gita Pathak attends 23rd Summer institute in Statistical Genetics as University of Washington

Heads Up April 2017Gita Pathak is a Genetics PhD candidate under the mentorship of Dr. Nicole Phillips. She recently attended the 23rd Summer Institute in Statistical Genetics at University of Washington, Seattle from July 18-28, 2018. Gita was awarded full scholarship, covering the cost of three modules, and a travel award. During her time at UW, she participated in three workshops: Computational Pipelines for WGS Data, Integrative Genomics, and Network & Pathway Analysis for Omics Data. She had the opportunity to connect with and learn from several luminaries in the field of Statistical Genetics, especially Dr. Bruce Weir who heads the Summer Institute that is funded by the NIH. Upon her return, Gita shared her experience and content of the modules in a seminar, attended by staff and students of Genetics program.

Gita received her travel award from Centre of Diversity for her contribution in the UNTHSC’s Coaching Up initiative – geared towards creating awareness of science among high-schoolers from Arlington, Texas. She was also the recipient of NIH’s Neurobiology of Aging T32 predoctoral fellowship for the year 2017-18. In May 2018, Gita was awarded the ‘Health Science Innovation Award’ at the Neurobiology of Aging Trainee Symposium for her doctoral research. Gita advanced to Ph.D. candidacy with distinction in her Research Proposal Defense and Oral Qualifying Exam. Gita’s PhD project is focused on the investigation of syntropic and dystropic comorbidity patterns of aging-associated diseases using an integrative genomics approach.

Gita has also served in several leadership roles such as the Secretary for Graduate Student Association, and currently as the President for the Internal Student Association. She has actively been involved in teaching and mentoring opportunities on campus and is also a mentor in the National Research Mentoring Network. She has presented her work at state and national level conferences including, The 13th Annual Texas Conference on Health Disparities: Diversity in the Era of Precision Medicine, and American Society of Human Genetics.

Sarah Schmedes defends her Doctoral Dissertation

Sarah SchmedesSarah Schmedes’ doctoral dissertation research focused on developing novel methods to use skin microbiomes for forensic human identification. In addition, she worked on several smaller projects in the areas of human forensic genetics, massively parallel sequencing, and ancient DNA. These research projects resulted in 11 publications, with an additional manuscript submitted. She graduated from Texas State University in 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Microbiology, and achieved her Master of Science in Forensic Biology from the University at Albany, State University of New York in 2009. She worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Budowle during her doctoral studies. She defended her Doctoral Dissertation on September 8, 2017.

Sarah received numerous honors and awards during her doctoral studies, including Outstanding Graduate Student in Molecular and Medical Genetics; nomination and induction to Sigma Xi, Scientific Research Society; and advanced to Ph.D. candidacy with distinction. She was a recipient of the 2014 Eugene and Millicent Goldschmidt Graduate Student Award, awarded by the Texas Branch of the American Society for Microbiology to the top two female graduate students in microbiology in the state of Texas. Sarah was active in the Graduate Student Association, the Forensic Investigation, Research and Education organization (FIRE), served as Vice-President and President of the Student Outbreak Response Team (SORT), and served on the UNTHSC Infection Control Committee. She also currently is a member in the professional organizations Sigma Xi and the American Society for Microbiology (national and Texas branches).

She and her husband, Brian, are starting a new adventure and making their home in Atlanta, Georgia, where Sarah has been selected to serve as an APHL/CDC Post-Doctoral Bioinformatics Fellow in the Malaria Genomics Laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) upon graduation.


Talisa Silzer awarded the Good Neighbor Scholarship

Talisa Silzer

Talisa Silzer, a Master of Science student in Dr. Nicole Phillips’ laboratory, was awarded the Good Neighbor Scholarship as part of a program designed to encourage academically talented students from the countries of the Western (American) hemisphere to pursue higher education in Texas.  She received 12 months of full tuition support as an international student who came to study with us from Canada.  She is currently investigating the role of mitochondria at the intersection of type 2 diabetes and cognitive dysfunction through a collaboration with HABLE, the Healthy & Aging Brain Among Latino Elders, research study in the Institute for Healthy Aging. For information on this award pleases visit the College for all Texans : Good Neighbor Scholarship website.







Frank Wendt receives 2017 Outstanding Graduate Student Award

UNTHSC GSBS awards 16 (1)

In addition, Frank also was awarded the Graduate Student Association’s Outstanding Member Award,the Rachel Dauphin Memorial Scholarship and a GSA Travel Scholarship!Frank is a Biomedical Science (Genetics) Ph.D. Candidate under the mentorship of Dr. Bruce Budowle. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science, with a concentration in biology, from The Pennsylvania State University in 2013. His undergraduate research projects involved understanding how microorganisms thrive in, and contribute to, the sub-zero temperature ecosystems of Siberian, Antarctic, and Pennsylvania cold trap permafrost (Dr. Corien Bakermans), evaluation of rapid DNA technologies for field-forward applications (Dr. Mitchell Holland), and applications of massively parallel sequencing (MPS) to mitochondrial DNA, specifically for interrogation of heteroplasmy in maternal relatives (Dr. Mitchell Holland). Frank’s doctoral work in the Budowle Lab focuses primarily on in silico characterization and MPS interrogation of full-gene regions of opiate absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) and analgesic response pharmacogenes. Genetic variations (i.e., single nucleotide polymorphisms, insertion/deletion polymorphisms, gene transversions, and/or copy number changes) in these genes produce phenotypic variation that may result in death, overdose, and addiction and are an emerging concern for the forensic genetics, toxicology, and healthcare communities.  The overall goal of this work is to evaluate the utility of a comprehensive metabolizer profile for molecular autopsy of deceased, tramadol-exposed Finns using multiple genes encoding proteins responsible for various portions of the opiate-ADME process. Frank has also been involved in collaborative side projects addressing topics of MPS and capillary electrophoresis assay development, Native American population genetics, design and implementation of MPS data analysis software, and application of tandem mass spectrometry and statistical methods to screening for ignitable liquids in fire debris. After successful defense of his dissertation (tentatively Spring 2018), Frank plans to begin a pharmacogenomics post-doctoral position in the US or Europe.



Santosh Thapa receives fellowship from European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases


In 2016, Santosh was selected as a fellow of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) to study a global perspective on emerging infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and other threats at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm, Sweden. During the observership visit, he got an opportunity not only to understand the roles and responsibilities of ECDC in supporting infectious disease prevention and control in the European nations and the globe, but also network among the diverse professionals from various countries. He also obtained knowledge on Epidemic Intelligence System (EIS), rapid risk assessment of an infectious disease threat, application of molecular typing data for public health decision making, and evidence based public health approaches to tackle the global burden of infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance via various workshops, interactive sessions, hands-on exercises, and the ‘Daily Round Table’ of ECDC Emergency Operations Centre. Santosh is a PhD candidate in Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of North Texas Health Science Center under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Allen. He is originally from Nepal and received his Master’s degree in microbiology with a specialization in medical microbiology from the Tribhuvan University (Kathmandu, Nepal). While at the Tribhuvan University, he did research on methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Streptococcus pyogenes and other bacterial pathogens. Currently, his research focuses on tick-borne diseases. This Spring, Santosh received the President’s Fund Award from the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) to present his research on bacterial microbiomes of the Lone Star tick at the 27th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Vienna, Austria. Santosh also received a Public Engagement Grant in 2015 from the UK based the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) to organize a workshop on ‘microbiology for societal transformation’ in his home country-Nepal, where various aspects of microbiological sciences were discussed to the general public and relevant stakeholders. When Santosh is not studying, he enjoys hiking, traveling, listening music, and spending time with his wife and son.

In addition, Santosh also was awarded scholarships from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) to attend the Microbe Academy for Professional Development (MAPD) workshop and ASM Microbe-2017 in New Orleans in June 2017, as well as a Graduate Student Association Scholarship and a GSA Travel Award!