School of Medicine’s Office of Graduate Education announces doctoral excellence award winners

The Office of Graduate Education in the School of Medicine announced the annual Doctoral Excellence Award winners. Eleven PhD graduates were selected to receive this outstanding research and scholarship award.

The Doctoral Excellence Awards were established to recognize PhD students throughout the School of Medicine whose thesis research represented highly original work and an unusually significant contribution to their field. Additionally, award winners are expected to be highly engaged in service to their department, the university and/or the general scientific community. A committee composed of graduate program directors from the School of Medicine reviewed all nominations and selected the recipients of each award.

The list of awardees and their primary research mentors is as follows:


Yen-Shan Chen (Mentor: Michael Weiss): Chen’s thesis focused on male sex determination in rodents and humans. His studies transformed our understanding of how genetic switches produce evolutionary innovation.

Biomedical Engineering

Manfred Franke (Mentor: Kevin Kilgore): Franke has a background in neuroscience and electrical engineering. His work focused on the use of external implantable devices to induced electric nerve block to reduce spasticity and pain following stroke or spinal cord injury.

Epidemiology & Biostatistics

Andreea Seicean (Mentor: Duncan Neuhauser): Seiceanʼs dissertation uses HSR methodology to answer four fundamental questions about the practice of neurosurgery that affect patient care, physician decision making, resource utilization and cost. Seicean used a large multi-center prospective database to analyze these issues.

Genetics & Genome Sciences

Melissa Hinman (Mentor: Hua Lou): Hinman’s thesis research made significant progress in understanding how alternative splicing affects the function of the neurofibromatosis type 1 (NFI) gene in cells and mice, and in understanding how this alternative splicing is regulated. Her studies will provide new insight into the progression and development of this devastating disease in humans.

Molecular Medicine

Mark Barnes (Mentor: Laura Nagy): Barnes’ project is directed at understanding the molecular mechanisms by which macrophage inhibitory factor (MIF) contributes to different forms of liver injury. His studies directly impinge upon hepatic diseases such as ethanol induced liver toxicity as well as inflammatory diseases including arthritis and ulcerative colitis.


Sungho Lee (Mentor: Bruce Lamb): Lee examined the role of CX3CL1-CX3CR1 signaling in Alzheimer’s disease with a focus on the development of extracellular aggregates of beta-amyloid (Aβ) and microtubule-associated protein tau (MAPT) pathologies observed in the human brain with Alzheimer’s. His research provides clarity regarding the role of microglial activation in neuroinflammation and neuroprotection.


L. Henry Goodnough (Mentor: Radhika Atit). Goodnough’s research addresses the molecular and genetic mechanisms involved in cranial bone development. The genesis of his work is to understand how craniofacial abnormalities occur, and to use this knowledge to potentially treat craniofacial defects as well as improve our understanding of evolutionary skull variations and development.

Lachelle Weeks (Mentor: Stanton Gerson):Weeks’ research examined mechanisms of action of antifolate drugs commonly used to treat cancers. The significance of her work is that it provides mechanistic details for the genotoxicity of uracil misincorporation and also the potential role for its use as a predictive biomarker and/or as a chemotherapeutic target.


Amar Desai (Mentor: Stanton Gerson): Desai’s thesis addressed a novel area that intersected DNA repair and stem cell maintenance. He made the critical observation that exonuclease one (Exo-1) has a role not only in homologous DNA recombination but also in mismatch repair and that both repair pathways impact stem cell survival and function.

Debarshi Mustafi (Mentor: Krzysztof Palczewski). Mustafi developed a biological systems approach that combined genetics, imaging and biochemistry to gain fundamental novel insights into the etiology of chronic eye diseases. His research accomplishments have been recognized at the local and national levels.

Physiology and Biophysics

Prattana Samasilp (Mentor: Corey Smith): The specific question addressed in Samasilpʼs research relates to the molecular mechanism for the activity-dependent switch in secretory behavior from the adrenal chromaffin cells. The impact of her work is widespread, including the identification of potential therapeutic targets for hypertension, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.