November 18, 2020

Showalter Trust selects new scholars, funds 11 early career faculty

More than a dozen mid- and early career faculty members have been chosen to receive funding from the Ralph W. and Grace M. Showalter Research Trust Fund.

Rong Huang, Nicholas Noinaj, Maggie O’Haire and Yulia Pushkar have been appointed as new Showalter University Faculty Scholars. They join nine additional Showalter Scholars appointed in prior years at Purdue.

Rong Huang Rong Huang

Huang, an associate professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, applies an interdisciplinary approach to understand the molecular mechanisms of methyltransferases and acetyltransferases, design and synthesize selective and potent inhibitors to manipulate the epigenetic pathways, and develop novel and targeted epigenetic drugs for cancer, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. Specifically, her lab focuses on protein N-terminal methyltransferases (NTMTs), N-terminal acetyltransferases (NATs), and nicotinamide N-methyltransferase (NNMT).

Nicholas Noinaj Nicholas Noinaj

Noinaj, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, studies the structure and function of membrane-embedded molecular machines from pathogenic bacteria and chloroplasts. One of his primary research interests lies in understanding how pathogenic Gram-negative bacteria are able to use virulence factors found on their surface to mediate infection. His lab uses a combination of biochemical and biophysical techniques. Noinaj’s goal is to use the information from structural and functional characterization as a starting point for drug discovery and development targeting these pathogens.

Maggie O’Haire Maggie O’Haire

O’Haire, an associate professor of human-animal interaction in the Center for the Human-Animal Bond in the Department of Comparative Pathobiology, studies the unique and pervasive ways that humans interact with animals. From research with household pets to highly trained service animals, her findings have been instrumental in evaluating the effects of human-animal interactions. Her research topics have included classroom-based, animal-assisted intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder and the effects of service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and their families.

Yulia Pushkar Yulia Pushkar

Pushkar, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, researches the mechanisms of biological and bio-mimetic catalysis, as well as analysis of biological functions of various transition metals in the brain. Her laboratory develops and employs advanced scientific techniques, such as time resolved X-ray spectroscopy, imaging, electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) and Raman spectroscopy, for analysis of the fundamental photosynthesis processes of light harvesting, charge separation and catalysis. This basic research underpins additional efforts related to the innovation of artificial photosynthetic systems to capture solar energy at scale.

Faculty members were nominated in partnership with the provost’s University Faculty Scholars program and approved by an external selection committee of distinguished scientists representing the Showalter Research Trust. Funding from the trust --$5,000 annually -- complements equivalent funding from the Office of the Provost.

Eleven early career faculty members also will receive one-year Showalter Trust grants. The researchers and their projects are:

  • Brittany Allen-Petersen, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences: “The Role of PP2A B56α in Regulating Pancreatic Tumorigenesis.”
  • Uma Aryal, research assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Pathobiology: “Proteomic Analysis of Endogenous Protein Complexes and Phosphorylation in the Liver of Diet-Induced Obese Mice.”
  • Abram Axelrod, assistant professor, Department of Chemistry and Department of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology: “Engineering Macrophage Polarization through an Immunoglobulin G/Histidine Rich Glycoprotein Hybrid.”
  • Xiaoping Bao, assistant professor, Davidson School of Chemical Engineering: “Rapid and Efficient Generation of Off-the-Shelf Immune Cells from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells (hPSCs) for Cancer Immunotherapy.”
  • Tzu-Wen Cross, assistant professor, Department of Nutrition Science: “The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Endocrine System.”
  • Maria Dadarlat Makin, assistant professor, Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering: “Using Deep Artificial Neural Networks to Develop Artificial Sensation for Neural Prostheses.”
  • Uzay Emir, assistant professor, School of Health Sciences: “Investigating the Cerebellar Crus I Abnormalities in Autism Spectrum Disorders Using Ultra-High Resolution Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Imaging.”
  • Sa Liu, assistant professor, School of Health Sciences: “Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) Contamination and Children’s Health in Martinsville, Indiana.”
  • Matthew Olson, assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences: “STAT3-Dependent Cytokine and Transcription Factors in the Differentiation of Pathogenic CD4+ T Helper Cells in Graft-Versus-Host Disease.”
  • Andrea Pires Santos, assistant professor, Department of Comparative Pathobiology: “Architecture, Function and Gene Regulation of Human Granulomas of Autopsied Patients Co-Infected with Tuberculosis and HIV-1.”
  • Joshua Widhalm, assistant professor, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture: “Synthetic Organelle Biology: Investigating the Potential of Using Heterologous Organelles to Treat Human Diseases.”

Faculty members were chosen by the external Showalter Selection Committee after review by an internal Purdue committee. Priority was given to proposals that have a high potential to yield federal grants and that are likely to turn into long-term research programs that outlive the one-year funding period. Each researcher will receive $75,000 in funding.

The Ralph W. and Grace M. Showalter Trust program was established in 1975 to support research in the priority areas of environmental science; biochemistry and molecular biology; disease prevention, diagnosis, progression, treatment and control; new technologies for food production, preservation, distribution and safety; and medical and biophysical instrumentation. In addition to University Faculty Scholars for mid-career professionals and one-year funding for early career professionals, the trust also supports two Showalter Distinguished Professors at Purdue, Charles Bouman and Kinam Park.

For more information about the Showalter Trust, visit this webpage.


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