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Two IUPUI researchers receive 2016 Research Frontiers Trailblazer Awards



INDIANAPOLIS — Two Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis researchers were named recipients of the 2016 Research Frontiers Trailblazer Award during the IUPUI Research Day earlier this month.

Established in 2010, the Research Frontiers Trailblazer Award recognizes outstanding IUPUI researchers who are showing great promise in becoming nationally and internationally known for their accomplishments in advancing the frontiers of knowledge.

Specifically, the award is for outstanding accomplishments in research and creative activity by an associate professor within the first three years of promotion or appointment in the given rank.

This year’s Trailblazer Award recipients are:

Dr. Carmella Evans-Molina, associate professor, Department of Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine

Carmella Evans-Molina is associate director of development of the Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, one of only 16 NIH-funded Diabetes Research Centers in the U.S. Her research focus is islet dysfunction in diabetes. At the IU School of Medicine, Evans-Molina holds two major NIH grants as a principal investigator; a VA Merit Award; and a major grant from JDRF, the leading global organization funding Type 1 diabetes research. She has published more than 40 papers in the highest-quality journals.

The combined syndromes of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes mellitus affect nearly 387 million people worldwide. If current trends continue, 1 out of every 3 persons born in the U.S. after 2000 will develop diabetes during his or her lifetime.

“As a physician-scientist and endocrinologist at the IU School of Medicine, I am committed to reversing these trends and improving the health of those affected by diabetes through basic, translational and clinical research,” Evans-Molina said.

“Carmella is a rising superstar, an academic leader and a role model for young trainees. She is actively publishing, gathering exciting data, writing successful grants, and training students and postdoctoral fellows,” said Dr. Anantha Shekhar, Indiana University associate vice president for clinical affairs, in a letter of recommendation. “She represents IUSM and IUPUI on the national and international levels. Carmella is diligent, methodical and careful, but importantly, she is personable. I have no doubt that she will rise to hold significant leadership positions within academic medicine.”

“Carmella’s research has provided novel insights into the common pathways leading to beta cycle dysfunction in Type 1 and 2 diabetes. She pioneered the concept that dysregulation of calcium homeostasis contributes to beta cell dysfunction in both disorders,” said Dr. Stephen R. Hammes, of University of Rochester Medical Center School of Medicine and Dentistry, in a letter of recommendation. “Her work is basic, translational, elegant and unique.”

Evans-Molina holds a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from West Virginia University and an M.D. degree from Marshall University School of Medicine.

Gavriil Tsechpenakis, associate professor, Department of Computer and Information Science, School of Science at IUPUI

“Dr. Tsechpenakis is an energetic, visionary and hardworking researcher. His expertise is in computer vision, biomedical imaging and computational biology,” Simon Rhodes, dean of the School of Science and professor of biology, said in a letter of recommendation.

The human brain has an amazing capacity to functionally recover from strokes that damage local neuronal circuitries, but little is known about the principles of such a highly adaptive system, according to Rhodes. Recent advances in imaging and computational technologies allow for visualizing and processing the small insect brain in its entirety; scientists most often use the Drosophia melanogaster, or fruit fly, for such studies.

“Using data acquired with state-of-the-art imaging techniques at two Drosophila neuroscience laboratories, Dr. Tsechpenakis seeks to pattern the detailed morphology and dynamics of individual neurons during development, and reconstruct neuronal circuits and model their changes during brain development,” Rhodes said.

Tsechpenakis received a $573,000 NSF CAREER Award for his “Modeling the Structure and Dynamics of Neuronal Circuits in the Drosophila larvae using Image Analytics” project.

Tsechpenakis’ research focus on the bottom-up reconstruction of a model brain is “an impressive line of research,” said UCLA computer science professor Demetri Terzopoulos. “It goes beyond the application of computer vision methods; it requires knowledge of basic neuroscience and a deep understanding of the biological problem, the data and data-acquisition issues. In this domain, [Tsechpenakis] is already considered a pioneer.”

“Given Dr. Gavriil Tsechpenakis’ scientific curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, research drive, strong work ethic and technical skills as a computer scientist, I am confident that he will continue to have a fruitful academic career at IUPUI, continuing to produce trailblazing research achievements that promise to bring international recognition to your university,” Terzopoulos said in a letter of recommendation.

The IUPUI professor earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece.