Outstanding researchers honored by GRU Research Institute

Darrell BrannAUGUSTA, Ga. – The Georgia Regents University Research Institute honored outstanding researchers at its annual Awards Dinner this month.

Dr. Darrell Brann, Regents Professor of Neurology, received the Research Institute’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Internationally recognized for making fundamental scientific contributions in the fields of women’s health, neuroendocrinology, and reproductive endocrinology, “few have had the impact upon the university and community as Dr. Brann has through his outstanding contributions in research, education, service, and administration,” wrote one nominator, Lin Mei, Chairman of the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine.

Brann’s research accomplishments include clarifying the neuroendocrine mechanisms that underlie steroid hormone positive feedback to control ovulation; helping explain the neuroprotective actions of estrogen in the brain; and providing key support for the “critical window hypothesis” of estrogen replacement therapy, helping elucidate how and why premature menopause leads to greater risk of dementia and death from neurological disorders.

During his career, he has authored or coauthored 156 articles, three book chapters, and edited one book. His research has appeared in high impact journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Brain, Cancer Research, and Journal of Neuroscience. He has served as a full-time member of two National Institutes of Health Study Sections and as an ad hoc member or chair of 19 others. He also served as Co-Chair and Chair of the American Heart Association Brain II Study Section from 2007-12.

Brann was a key player in creating the GRU Ph.D. Program in Neuroscience in 2005, and has served as its Director since 2006. “The program quickly grew to be one of the largest graduate doctoral programs on campus, and its graduates have gone on to positions at leading universities around the nation,” wrote another nominator, Dr. Virendra Mahesh, Regents Professor and Chair Emeritus of the Department of Physiology and Endocrinology.

Adviye ErgulDr. Adviye Ergul, Professor of Physiology and Director of the Physiology Graduate Program, is the winner of the Research Institute’s 2014 Mahesh Distinguished Research Award.

Ergul is world renown for her diabetes research, which focuses on how diabetes influences blood vessels in the brain and developing strategies to prevent and treat complications like stroke and cognitive impairment that are more common in people with the disease. She has contributed to the understanding of how diabetes promotes cerebral angiopathy, which plays a significant role in the all of the cerebral complications of diabetes.

“For years, stroke research had a very neurocentric focus, where all efforts were centered on saving neurons,” wrote nominator Dr. Alvin Terry, Regents Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “We are now recognizing that it is not only neurons that are affected and we have to begin investigating the role of other cells in the brain. (Her) expertise related to vascular function and integrity in the brain combined with her accomplishments in diabetes research provides the multifaceted approach that has, to date, been missing in stroke research.”

Ergul has published 120 papers in peer-reviewed journals, including a recent review on diabetes and brain angiogenesis which was featured as the cover article for the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. She sits on the Leadership Committee for the American Heart Association Council on High Blood Pressure Research and has served for over five years on the National Institutes of Health Integrative Physiology of Obesity and Diabetes Study Section. She also serves on the Review Panel for the American Diabetes Association and as chair for the National American Heart Association Brain 3 Review Panel.

Javier SternDr. Javier Stern, Neuroscientist and Professor of Physiology, received the Distinguished Research Award.

Stern’s research focuses on central neural control of cardiovascular function, specifically on the neuronal signaling mechanisms that underlie sympathetic and hormonal overactivation in cardiovascular diseases like hypertension and heart failure. “He has made outstanding research contributions with a strong impact on his discipline,” wrote one of his nominators, Dr. David Stepp, Professor of Physiology and Co-Director of the Diabetes and Obesity Discovery Institute.

He is the principal investigator on two National Institutes of Health RO1 grants, studying the neuro-glial signaling mechanisms and their impact on hypertension.

Stern, a faculty member since 2008, has 68 research publications in peer-reviewed journals, including seven in prestigious journals like the Journal of Neuroendocrinology and Autonomic Neuroscience, and eight book chapters. He is a member of the NIH’s Hypertension and Microcirculation and Integrative, Functional, and Cognitive Neuroscience Study Sections, and is a member of the American Heart Association’s National Center and Southern Consortium.

He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience, the American Physiological Society, the American Society of Neuroendocrinology, and the International American Society of Neuroendocrinology.

Ryan HarrisDr. Ryan Harris, Clinical Exercise Physiologist at GRU’s Institute for Public and Preventive Health, is the recipient of the Emerging Scientist Award.

He studies the interaction of oxidative stress, inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in human disease and how exercise can intervene. He is a Co-Investigator on all three projects related to the Georgia Prevention Center’s recent National Institutes of Health Program Project Grant examining stress related mechanisms of hypertension risk; and his principal investigator on an NIH study looking at the role of blood flow and vascular function on exercise capacity in cystic fibrosis.

He was honored for his research twice in 2011 with the Clinical Science Young Investigator Award from the Cardiovascular Section of the American Physiological Society and the GRU Outstanding Young Clinical Science Faculty Award. He serves on the editorial boards of the journals Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, and Journal of Sports Sciences.

Harris, Director of the Laboratory of Integrative and Vascular Exercise Physiology, joined the faculty in 2009 after completing a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of California, San Diego. He earned his Ph.D. in human performance and clinical exercise physiology at Indiana University.