MEMORY OF ONE SCIENTIST LIVES ON THROUGH OTHERS

Edith Wright Hartley Ph.D. ’82 accomplished much in her 46 years of life. She was valedictorian of her Central Florida high school, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College), a master’s degree from Duke University and a PhD in Medical Sciences from the University of South Florida.

Hartley’s career included research at USF and teaching in the Morsani College of Medicine. She co-authored a textbook, Computed Tomography of the Head and Spine, as well as numerous papers on scientific methodology.

“She loved her work and doing research. She was always curious, had a great sense of humor and her smile was radiant,” said Hartley’s sister, Marian Wright.

In addition to her career, Hartley was a wife and loving mother to two sons, and was active in her community.

Following in her grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps, Hartley joined the Florida State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). She served the DAR as a state regent and was named National Outstanding Junior Member of the DAR in 1982.

According to Hartley’s sister Barbara Wright Fite ’69, during her lifetime Hartley supported the scholarship program offered by the DAR to youth across the country.

“Education was important to Edi, and she supported the notion that all deserving students should earn scholarship assistance,” said Fite. 

When Hartley passed away in 1993 at just 46, her family decided to establish a scholarship to honor her memory. While the endowment is managed by the DAR, the University of South Florida receives the funds each year to award to deserving students.

Edith Wright Hartley 1.jpeg
Edith Wright Hartley PhD ’82 at Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College) in 1965. ​​Photo credit: John Sprague Jr.

The Edith Wright Hartley PhD Graduate Scholarship is open to all full- or part-time graduate students in the Morsani College of Medicine with preference given to female students with an interest in neuroscience or seeking a doctorate.

“Our parents were very big on the notion that academic education was the best opportunity for growth for their daughters and began this scholarship in Edith’s name to continue to support academia,” said Fite.

In Spring 2020, the scholarship was awarded to four students in USF’s PhD in Medical Sciences program.

Zeinab Motawe PhD ’20 successfully defended her dissertation this spring. Her research includes investigating how drugs that activate Sigma-1 receptors function inside endothelial cells, which line blood vessels. Her research has found targeting this receptor is beneficial for endothelium and is promising as a therapeutic target for diseases involving endothelial dysfunction such as stroke. Especially because Sigma-1 activation was shown to enhance outcomes in stroke rat models, even 48 to 72 hours later. Current drugs are only beneficial if administered within four to six hours of stroke.

Motawe came to USF from Egypt with her husband, who was pursuing a doctorate in mathematics. A medical school graduate, Motawe applied to and was accepted into USF’s PhD in Medical Sciences program in 2016 and joined the lab of Jerome Breslin, PhD.

Breslin was the one who encouraged her to apply for the Hartley Scholarship. 

“It’s extra money that wasn’t expected, so it helps me to adjust my expenses,” said Motawe, who welcomed a son during her doctoral studies. She said the funds have helped her and her husband cover daycare expenses this year. 

“It all worked out with the help of my mentor and my husband and with the support I got from all my colleagues and, of course, with the help of the scholarship,” said Motawe. “It’s financial support, of course, but also emotional support. You feel like, ‘I’m doing good.’ This was encouraging me to develop myself even more. I’m really grateful to the donors for the scholarship.”

The sense of getting more than financial support from the scholarship was echoed by other recipients.

“I felt so happy when I got the email [about receiving the scholarship]. It just confirmed to me that I’m on the right path,” said Rhoukiah Khalil, explaining the scholarship will help her pay tuition or perhaps travel for a conference or to see her family.

Khalil came to USF from Egypt, where she earned a pharmacy degree from Cairo University in 2012. She was working as a teaching and research assistant in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy there while pursuing a master’s degree when she made the decision to enroll in the PhD in Medical Sciences program at USF.

Khalil joined the lab of Subhra Mohapatra, PhD, because the work being done there was varied and she liked the idea of being exposed to multiple research areas. Her doctoral research is focused on a drug of herbal origin to see if it could be a good therapy for lung cancer.

“The reason why I’m doing my work and what drives my passion is I had a family member who had cancer, and I really want to make a difference,” she said.

Meena Subhashini Subbarayan also has a personal connection behind her area of research. Her grandfather died from a brain tumor, which has inspired her to delve more deeply into brain disorders.

“I always wanted to do something in the field of medicine, but I cannot handle sick patients,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Subbarayan studied engineering, specifically biotechnology, and worked in a neurophysiology lab on an epilepsy study. For graduate school, she wanted to work on neurodegenerative disorders, so USF became her top choice since several USF professors work in that area.

She landed in Paula Bickford’s lab, studying Parkinson’s Disease. Her research looks at how neuro communication in Parkinson’s Disease is impaired and how it can be rectified using an anti-inflammatory chemokine. She is also studying how the Parkinson’s disease progression happens with and without T cells and its communication with microglia (the brain’s innate immune system).

For the past few years, Subbarayan’s studies have been supported by Bickford, so receiving the Hartley Scholarship helped reduce that burden and paid her tuition.

Subbarayan found even the application process was helpful.

“It made me look at my project in a perspective of how others will look at it,” she said, explaining she was able to present it to various foundations afterwards as well. “I was able to do it with confidence. It motivated me mentally to keep going.”

Drishya Iyer also found value in the application process, explaining it was good practice in writing out her research aims, as she will undoubtedly do when applying for grants throughout her career. 

“Can I put together my ideas and make it relatable to someone else,” she said. “It was definitely a good boost to my confidence.”

South Indian by birth, Iyer grew up in Dubai in the Middle East and came to USF as an undergraduate. After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in 2018, she immediately enrolled in the PhD in Medical Sciences program, joining the lab of Joshua Scallan, PhD.

Iyer studies lymphedema, which is the buildup of fluid in the tissues and currently has no cure.

“Everyone in the field right now is sort of racing to find a cure,” she said.

As an international student, Iyer said she was especially grateful for the Hartley Scholarship as many similar kinds of funding are only open to U.S. citizens. This was particularly helpful in helping her build up her curriculum vitae, which will in turn make her more competitive for other scholarships and fellowships in the future.

It was also a financial boost, covering her fees for the semester.

“That was helpful, because that’s a huge chunk of money that’s coming out of pocket every semester. It was good that I didn’t really have to worry about having to pay that for one semester,” she said.

Iyer said many of the scientists who have propelled the field forward have been women.

“Women scientists make up a huge portion of the lymphatic biology field of research and have made significant contributions to our understanding of the lymphatic system and its associated diseases,” she said.

For these four recipients — and those who will earn the scholarship in the future — the Wright family hope they continue to conduct research that brings about ways to help people in need.

“We especially want deserving scholars to have the opportunity to continue their studies with confidence that there are many ways people are supporting them, not just with money, but also the belief that they can make the world a better place,” said Fite.

MCOM Faculty Member Named To Clarivariate’s Highly Cited Researchers 2020 List

Vladimir Uversky, PhD, DSc, of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine was among three University of South Florida faculty member recently named to the prestigious Clarivate list of Highly Cited Researchers™ 2020.

Vladimir Uversky, PhD, DSc

The highly anticipated annual list identifies researchers who demonstrated significant influence in their fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. Their names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science™ citation index.

Dr. Uversky is a professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine.  His research encompasses the analysis of protein folding, misfolding and non-folding. In particular, he focuses on experimentally and computationally characterizing intrinsically disordered proteins (i.e., those that are biologically active without unique structures) and understanding their role in various biological processes and human diseases. His work on different aspects of protein biophysics has garnered international recognition.

Dr. Uversky has earned highly cited researcher honors since 2014. His 827 publications have been cited more than 52,500 times.

Clarivate’s methodology that determines the “who’s who” of influential researchers draws on the data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at the Institute for Scientific Information™ at Clarivate. It also uses the tallies to identify the countries and research institutions where these scientific elite are based.

The other two USF faculty members named to the 2020 list were Fred Mannering, PhD, interim director of USF’s Center for Urban Transportation with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Economics, and Wen-Xiu Ma, PhD, of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

MCOM Emerging Scientists Recognized As USF Scholars Of Excellence

Three USF Health Morsani College of Medicine doctoral students were among the emerging scientists recognized Nov. 9 at the USF Office of Graduate Studies “Scholars of Excellence 2020” awards ceremony.

Karthick Mayilsamy and Michael Sacco, both doctoral students in the Department of Molecular Medicine, each received a $2,500 Chih Foundation Research & Publication Award. The Chih Foundation award supports exceptional science, engineering, or medicine (PhD, PharmD or MD) students who are conducting transformative research with the potential to advance science and the health of society.

Zeinab Motawe, MD, PhD, of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, who graduated spring 2020 with a PhD degree in medical sciences, received a $1,000 Outstanding Dissertation Award. This award recognizes USF graduates (in the top 2% of their discipline) who have demonstrated exemplary performance and whose thesis or dissertation has significantly affected their research field nationally.

Karthick Mayilsamy

Karthick Mayilsamy’s research focuses on neurodegenerative diseases, in particular understanding the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on the inflammatory signaling pathways connecting the spleen-brain-vision axis. He applied a nanoscale technology platform to develop a new therapeutic strategy for TBI, and this preclinical study was published Oct. 29 in Nanomedicine.  Mayilsamy is also studying the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to infect nerve tissue and designing nano-formulations as potential therapies.

Mayilsamy received a master of science degree in biotechnology from USF in 2018. In 2019 and 2020 he received a Florida High-Tech Corridor Council Matching Grant Award for Excellence in Student Research to support a project looking at the preclinical effectiveness of TN-1008, a small-molecule cancer stem cell inhibitor of a signaling pathway. His faculty co-mentors are Subhra Mohapatra, PhD, professor of molecular medicine, and Distinguished USF Health Professor Shyam Mohapatra, PhD, MBA.

Michael Sacco

Michael Sacco’s research focuses on studying mechanisms of antibiotic resistance and developing new treatments for gram-negative bacterial infections. Using protein X-ray crystallography and computer modeling analysis, he recently expanded his research to look at how promising antiviral drug candidates (inhibitors) interact with SARS-CoV-2’s main protease. In particular, the Chih Foundation Award recognized Sacco for recently published papers in two high-impact journals: Cell Research (June 15) and Science Advances (Nov. 6). The innovative published research offers insight into designing drugs to block COVID-19 infection.

Sacco received a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, in 2016. He received a University Graduate Fellowship from USF for 2016-17. His faculty mentor is Yu Chen, PhD, associate professor of molecular medicine.

Zeinab Motawe’s dissertation “Functional Significance of Endothelial Sigma-1 Receptors in Vascular Reactivity and Barrier Function” was conducted in the laboratory of faculty mentor Jerome Breslin, PhD, professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology.

Dr. Motawe’s research highlighted a novel mechanism for controlling microvascular hyperpermeability – excessive loss of fluid from blood vessels into surrounding tissues that causes tissues and organs to swell. Her preclinical studies included investigating how drugs that activate sigma-1 receptors function inside the endothelial cells that line blood vessels. She found that targeting this receptor is beneficial for endothelium and may offer a promising therapeutic target for diseases where the endothelial barrier malfunctions, such as stroke. Her dissertation research has resulted in a patent application (pending) for use of sigma receptor agonists to reduce microvascular hyperpermeability.

Zeinab Motawe, MD, PhD

USF awarded Dr. Motawe an Edith Wright Hartley Graduate Scholarship in 2019.  She received the Outstanding Innovations in Medicine Award at USF Health Research Day 2020.  The Microcirculatory Society selected Motawe for the society’s 2020 August Krogh Young Investigator Award based upon her first-author paper published in the journal Microcirculationjust one trainee a year receives this prestigious national award.

Now a USF postdoctoral scholar, Dr. Motawe recently joined the laboratory of Thomas Taylor-Clark, PhD, professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology, where she studies pathways of esophageal pain.

National Academy of Inventors named Dr. Niketa A. Patel to the February 2020 class of NAI Senior Members

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has named five USF faculty members who have distinguished themselves in the fields of health and energy innovation to the February 2020 class of NAI Senior Members, the organization announced today. Among those who received the honor is our Department of Molecular Medicine Associate Professor Dr. Niketa A. Patel.


Dr. Patel serves as a research scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, where she is the director of the Molecular Analysis and Core Laboratory Facility. Prior to this, she was an assistant professor of Molecular Medicine in the Morsani College of Medicine. As the head of her research program, Dr. Patel focuses on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and the impacts of metabolic cascades in neurodegenerative diseases. Over the course of her career, Dr. Patel has successfully carved a niche in integrating RNA biology with signaling in biologically relevant systems and understanding how it may be a cause or consequence of a disease. 

To learn more about her and the other nominees, visit USF Health.

A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

Dr. Xingmin Sun Recognized With Excellence In Innovation Awards

We are pleased to announce that Xingmin Sun, PhD, Associate Professor in our Department of Molecular Medicine, was one of five USF faculty members recognized for this year’s Excellence in Innovation Awards. The Excellence in Innovation Awards annually recognizes USF faculty who have demonstrated exceptional achievement in innovation and research. 

You can learn more about the Excellence in Innovation Awards at USF Health, and learn more about Dr. Sun’s research on his lab website.