Two UT Southwestern faculty members have been awarded prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Awards for high-risk, high-reward research.
Dr. Kendra Frederick, Assistant Professor of Biophysics, and Dr. Prashant Mishra, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and in the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI), will each receive $1.5 million as award recipients. Established in 2007, the NIH program supports unusually innovative research by early career investigators.
Dr. Frederick uses nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study protein structure to better understand diseases like Alzheimer’s. Dr. Mishra develops mouse models to study mutations in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in hopes of discovering new treatments for diseases that currently have limited therapeutic options.
“I am honored to receive this award that will support our laboratory’s efforts to apply cutting-edge physical chemistry instrumentation to biological systems and problems, which might not normally be funded by traditional grant mechanisms,” said Dr. Frederick, who has additional appointments in UT Southwestern’s Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Cecil H. and Ida Green Comprehensive Center for Molecular, Computational, and Systems Biology.
“We are taking advantage of new technology for NMR spectroscopy to determine protein structures inside of living cells and organisms,” she said. “This is particularly important to do for proteins that can take on different structures in healthy cells versus diseased cells. This work could help us to better understand neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
Dr. Frederick joined UT Southwestern in the Endowed Scholars Class of 2015-2019 as a Lupe Murchison Foundation Scholar in Medical Research following postdoctoral work at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in biochemistry and French language and literature and then earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in protein structure, function, and engineering from the University of Paris-Sud. She earned her Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biophysics from the University of Pennsylvania.
“Dr. Frederick is leading the charge into the next frontier of structural biology – understanding molecular structure and interactions at atomic resolution inside cells,” said Dr. Michael Rosen, Professor and Chair of Biophysics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator. “With her new NMR technology, she will be able to elucidate how protein molecules assemble into fibers, in both healthy and diseased cells, at a level of detail unattainable previously. The potential for discovery is extremely high, and Dr. Frederick is richly deserving of the title ‘New Innovator’ through this prestigious award from the NIH.”
Dr. Mishra’s research focuses on mutations in mtDNA, which are found in about 1 in every 5,000 people. Diseases that arise from these mutations are often untreatable, and research into this area is limited by the lack of reliable animal models – something Dr. Mishra hopes to change. His lab is generating mouse models that contain the same genetics and physiology seen in human patients. These models will reveal how the body responds to a mitochondrial mutation and may reveal new treatments for these diseases.
“I’m incredibly grateful for the support from the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award,” said Dr. Mishra, also a member of the Green Center for Systems Biology. “This award confirms the need for new tools and treatment options for diseases caused by mutations in mitochondrial DNA, which are both understudied and usually untreatable.”
“Many of the children diagnosed by CRI’s Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program have mutations in their mitochondrial DNA that cause debilitating diseases,” said Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the CRI, Professor of Pediatrics, and an HHMI Investigator.
“We recruited Dr. Mishra because we believe he is one of the most deep-thinking young scientists in the area of mitochondrial biology – someone who could help us understand how mitochondrial mutations cause disease,” added Dr. Morrison, who holds the Kathryne and Gene Bishop Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern and the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.
Dr. Mishra received his undergraduate degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard University before earning an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biophysics from UT Southwestern’s dual-degree Medical Scientist Training Program. He joined the UTSW faculty in 2015.
“It is a source of tremendous pride to see our UT Southwestern graduates go on to successful careers in the sciences,” added Dr. Rosen, also a member of the Green Center for Systems Biology who holds the Mar Nell and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry. “Dr. Mishra did highly innovative work as a Ph.D. student in our Molecular Biophysics Graduate Program. It is a wonderful recognition of him and the program that he is continuing to flourish and receiving recognition for his creativity as an independent investigator.”
The New Innovator awards are among four grant programs for researchers at every career stage that form the NIH Director’s High-Risk, High-Reward series of awards that are supported by the NIH Common Fund. Dr. Frederick’s award number is DP2 NS111236 and Dr. Mishra’s is DP2 ES030449.
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 16 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 15 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 105,000 hospitalized patients, nearly 370,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.4 million outpatient visits a year.
Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is a joint venture of UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center Dallas, the flagship hospital of Children’s Health. CRI’s mission is to perform transformative biomedical research to better understand the biological basis of disease. Located in Dallas, Texas, CRI is home to interdisciplinary groups of scientists and physicians pursuing research at the interface of regenerative medicine, cancer biology, and metabolism. For more information, visit: cri.utsw.edu. To support CRI, visit: cri.utsw.edu/support/