Drs. Bajikar and Ye receive the 2022 NRI Zoghbi Scholar Awards


Dr. Sameer Bajikar and Dr. Qi Ye are the recipients of the 2022 NRI Zoghbi Scholar Award, a special prize established in 2017 by Dr. Huda Zoghbi, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (NRI) at Texas Children's Hospital, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and a distinguished service professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

This award honors the many generations of trainees who have worked in the Zoghbi lab and at the Duncan NRI and supports their career development. It is open to senior Duncan NRI postdoctoral fellows who anticipate transitioning to independent investigator positions within a year or so and is intended to provide grant support and mentorship to these trainees as they begin to develop ideas for their future research programs.

Dr. Bajikar, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Zoghbi’s lab, was selected for his proposal entitled, “Investigating Dysregulation of GDF11 and SMAD3 in Rett Syndrome.” His recent studies led to the discovery that two components in the TGF-beta signaling pathway, the ligand Growth differentiation factor 11 (GDF11) and the transcription factor (SMAD3), are expressed at improper levels in Rett syndrome. With this award, his goal is to conduct experiments to test if he can correct the expression level of each of those proteins individually and if those strategies can improve features of Rett syndrome in mouse models. If successful, the proposed experiments will provide crucial insights into understanding how the sum of multiple dysfunctional parts can contribute to Rett syndrome, and the lessons learned from these studies are expected to be broadly applicable to other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Dr. Ye is a postdoctoral fellow training under Dr. Hyun Kyoung Lee who is an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine and an investigator at the Duncan NRI. She was selected as runner-up for her proposal titled, “Deciphering Astrocytic Arginine Metabolism-cytokine Coupling in Blood-brain-barrier Repair in Stroke.” Disruptions in the blood-brain barrier (BBB) contribute to neurological damage associated with ischemic stroke, the fifth leading cause of death in the US. Although tremendous efforts have been made to reduce mortality and improve stroke patients’ quality of life, stroke-induced BBB pathology and consequent brain dysfunction remain unresolved. How astrocytes support BBB integrity under pathological conditions remains poorly defined. Recent evidence found that the surge of inflammatory cytokine and chemokines after ischemic stroke is often accompanied by metabolic dysregulation. Among a growing list of pro-inflammatory chemokines involved in stroke, CCL2 is particularly noteworthy because emerging clinical evidence suggests a positive correlation between CCL2 and stroke severity. However, the exact causal relationship between metabolic dysregulation and CCL2 production is yet to be defined. This proposal is expected to provide key mechanistic insights into how astrocytes govern BBB recovery after ischemic stroke via metabolism-chemokine coupling and will also shed new light on novel glia-specific therapeutic approaches to stimulate brain repair after stroke injury.

Both awardees received a certificate and plaque from Dr. Zoghbi on May 5, 2023. As the first prize winner, Dr. Bajikar will receive $50,000 to support his innovative project that will form the foundation of his independent research program as well as a cash prize of $3,000. Dr. Ye, who is the runner-up, will receive $25,000 for her independent project and $1500 as a cash prize.

The selection committee, comprised of Drs. Mingshan Xue, Mirjana Maletic-Savatic, Meng Wang, Christophe Herman, and Jeannine Chin, provided detailed feedback and mentorship to all the applicants for this award to help with their future faculty job and grant applications. Their goal is to promote the success of every applicant.