Graduate Spotlight: Kelsey Paulhus

PaulhusKelsey Paulhus, a PhD student in the laboratory of Dr. Edward Glasscock who is an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at SMU, has received a predoctoral fellowship award from the American Epilepsy Society (AES) to support her research and professional development activities. These one-year fellowships provide $30,000 in funding to predoctoral students that are participating in epilepsy-related research under the guidance of a mentor who has expertise in the epilepsy field. Epilepsy is the fourth most common chronic neurological disease in the United States affecting up to one in 26 people during their lifetime.

Kelsey was one of only six predoctoral awardees chosen by AES to receive this prestigious and highly competitive fellowship for 2022. She was selected for her innovative research proposal to study the contribution of cortico-limbic brain regions to cardiorespiratory dysfunction and SUDEP risk. SUDEP is short for Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy and represents the leading cause of epilepsy-related mortality making it a serious public health concern that has so far remained unsolved. As part of her proposed research, Kelsey plans to measure the coordinated activity of the brain, heart, and lungs in specially engineered genetic mouse models of epilepsy to investigate how particular seizure-generating brain regions can also initiate cardiac and breathing problems when a seizure occurs. The findings of her research have important implications for identifying the brain circuits underlying SUDEP, as well as for elucidating the cardiorespiratory pathophysiology associated with heightened risk of seizure-related death.

The American Epilepsy Society is a medical and scientific society of 4,200 members dedicated to advancing research and education for preventing, treating, and curing epilepsy. With the financial aid provided by this award, Kelsey plans to attend the AES annual meeting this December in Nashville, TN where she will present the initial findings of her research to the epilepsy research community.

Undergraduate Spotlight: Roxana Farokhnia

Group of people standing and smiling.“SMU was the school for me because I wanted a personalized experience in college, where my professors would know me and care about where I want to go in life. My work in the Vogel-Wise Lab allows me as a pre-health student to not only participate in important research on finding ways to help cancer patients who don’t respond to chemotherapy, but also develop my own project and create meaningful connections with professors.” 

Faculty Spotlight: Zhihao Wu, Assistant Professor

WuDr. Wu joined the Department of Biological Sciences at Southern Methodist University in 2020. His laboratory is devoted to the study of human neurodegenerative diseases using model organisms. Currently, his team is focusing on understanding why dysfunctional cellular quality control systems, such as ribosomal-associated protein quality control (RQC) and mitochondrial quality control (MQC), contribute to the pathogenesis of human age-related diseases. In 2021, Dr. Wu was awarded the CPRIT High-Impact-High-Risk grant and was highlighted by the Dallas Morning News. In addition to state and federal funding, Dr. Wu's research projects may also receive support from industry. In 2022, Dr. Wu and his collaborators published a paper on Nature Communications and he was invited as a speaker at the 8th International neurodegeneration with brain iron accumulation (NBIA) Symposium in Lausanne, Switzerland. Currently, Dr. Wu serves as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and teaches courses including BIOL-3323 Biology of the Brain and BIOL-6310 Advanced Cell Biology. 

Faculty Spotlight: Rachel Wright, Lecturer

WrightDr. Rachel Wright joined the Biological Sciences Department in 2022. Dr. Wright has taught genetics and genomics courses at UT Austin, Harvard Medical School, Simmons University and Smith College. Dr. Wright uses genomic tools to study how reef-building corals respond to changing environments. In a new Genomics Lab she is developing at SMU in Spring 2023 (BIOL 4105), Dr. Wright will train students in computational tools required to analyze genome sequences using data from published and ongoing research projects. Dr. Wright is passionate about providing authentic research experiences for students in the classroom. She looks forward to integrating exciting research at SMU and beyond into class experiences for Genomics students.

Faculty Spotlight: Edward Glasscock, Associate Professor and Prothro Chair

GlasscockThe Department welcomes Dr. Edward Glasscock as the first holder of the Prothro Distinguished Chair of Biological Sciences. This position is supported by the C. Vincent Prothro Biological Sciences initiative established in 2008 in memory of C. Vincent Prothro ’68, and is intended to foster research efforts in the Department. Dr. Glasscock received his Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology from the University of California at Berkeley in 2005, after which he moved to Baylor College of Medicine for post-doctoral training in the Department of Neurology, where he made ground-breaking discoveries in the area of epilepsy. Subsequently, in 2013 he accepted a faculty position at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at Shreveport, where he established a highly successful research program rising to the rank of Associate Professor.

Dr. Glasscock’s lab, the Cardiorespiratory Neurogenetics Laboratory, is dedicated to understanding the genes and mechanisms underlying epilepsy and sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). Epilepsy is characterized by spontaneous recurring seizures and represents the fourth most common neurological disorder affecting about 1 in 26 Americans during their lifetime. People with epilepsy have an increased risk of dying suddenly for unknown reasons. These deaths are classified as sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) and represent the leading cause of epilepsy-related mortality.

Dr. Glasscock currently has two active R01 research grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health to identify neuro-cardio-respiratory mechanisms that contribute to increased SUDEP susceptibility. Dr. Glasscock’s lab employs several state-of-the-art in vivo and in vitro electrophysiological techniques in mouse models of epilepsy, including the simultaneous recording of electroencephalography (EEG), electrocardiography (ECG), electromyography (EMG), and plethysmography to measure brain, heart, muscle, and lung activities, respectively. He was also recently awarded a United States patent, along with researchers from Louisiana Tech University, for a new mathematical technique to identify brain-heart biomarkers of SUDEP risk from EEG-ECG data. Dr. Glasscock brings with him three talented postdoctoral fellows: Man Si, Indumathy Jagadeeswaram, and Praveen Kumar.

Faculty Spotlight: Adam Norris, Assistant Professor

NorrisDr. Norris has been acknowledged as an outstanding early stage investigator with the award of a prestigious Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institutes of Health. The MIRA grant provides funds with which Dr. Norris may pursue his research in how a cell coordinates multiple layers of gene regulation to produce a functional transcriptome. Using the round worm Caenorahabditis elegans the Norris lab employs molecular genetic analysis to determine the regulatory mechanisms by which transcription factors and RNA binding proteins coordinately control single-neuron transcriptomes. Subsequent application of such state-of-the-art techniques as neuron-specific RNA-Seq and CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing then allows Norris to identify co-regulated transcriptional networks and determine the functional relevance of specific gene regulatory events. This research will reveal important insights into conserved regulatory factors relevant to human neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.