Neuroscience Graduate Program Focus on Mentoring

Focus on Mentoring

  • Focus on Mentoring Designees
    The Neuroscience Graduate Program is pleased to highlight the following mentors:
  • Dr. Noelle Anastasio, PhD

    Dr. Noelle Anastasio received her bachelor’s degree in biology from The University of Texas at Austin. She then joined the Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program at the UTMB Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) and earned her PhD degree under the mentorship of Dr. Kenneth Johnson. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the UTMB Center for Addiction Research under the direction of Dr. Kathryn Cunningham, Dr. Anastasio joined the UTMB Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology faculty in 2014. She is currently a tenure-track assistant professor and also serves as the Director of the Cellular and Molecular Signaling Core in the Center for Addiction Research.


    Dr. Anastasio’s research focuses on the neurobiology of the patterns of individual differences in impulsivity and decision-making with respect to the development and maintenance of chronic health maladies associated with reward imbalance. Her work investigates neuronal serotonin and glutamate systems in relation to impulsivity and if rebalancing these systems may ultimately support behavioral recovery in disorders marked by impulsivity concomitant with an imbalance in the reward system and reactivity to reward conditioned cues (e.g., addiction, binge eating disorder, and obesity). Her research has the potential to lead to tailored treatments and/or diagnoses for individuals, along with new insights into how these systems can affect development or treatment. Her research is funded through multiple grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Peter F. McManus Charitable Trust Foundation. Her work has been published in 60 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and other publications, and she has served as a reviewer for over 20 scientific journals.


    Since joining the UTMB faculty, Dr. Anastasio has been actively engaged with teaching, mentoring, and administration. She is a member of the Pharmacology and Toxicology, Neuroscience, and Human Pathophysiology and Translational Medicine graduate programs, and has served as a facilitator in the School of Medicine and as a lecturer and course director for multiple courses in the GSBS on addiction, impulsivity, and other topics. In the past five years, she has directly supervised seven postdoctoral fellows, graduate or undergraduate students and has served as the chair or member of nine thesis or dissertation supervisory committees. She is actively involved in interviewing and recruitment efforts for various graduate programs and was appointed the Pharmacology and Toxicology Student Organization Faculty Advisor. She is a member of multiple institutional, national and international committees including the UTMB Faculty Senate, the International Society for Research on Impulsivity, and the International Society for Serotonin Research.

    Dr. Anastasio’s service as an educator and mentor has been recognized with several honors including the UTMB Center for Addiction Research People’s Choice Mentor of the Year Award and the UTMB Center for Addiction Research Distinguished Educator Award.
  • Dr. Dustin Green, PhD
    Dustin Green final

    Research Interests

    Our lab examines the interface between neurons and immune cells. Specifically, we study a large family of G protein-coupled receptors, called Mrgprs, and their role in pathological pain and itch.  Recently, we found that the mast cell specific receptor, MrgprB2 and its human orthologue, MRGPRX2, contribute to thermal and mechanical pain.

    As one of the key effector cells in the inflammatory process, mast cells are an important link between the nervous and immune systems. Mast cells can be found in close proximity to peripheral nerve endings and, due to their significant spatial advantages over other immune cells, are one of the first to respond to sensory nerve activation. 

    Using genetic, molecular, cellular, and behavioral approaches, we identified MrgprB2 as a link between the nervous system’s modulation of the innate immune response.  We found MrgprB2 contributes to thermal and mechanical pain and is critical in recruiting immune cells.  We were then able to connect these two findings by showing that the neuropeptide substance P (SP) activates MrgprB2, causing the release of proinflammatory cytokines and the recruitment of immune cells to the injury site.  These findings were further confirmed using human mast cells expressing MRGPRX2.  Another finding that upended previous dogma, was the finding that the canonical receptor NK1 was not involved in SP induced neurogenic inflammation and pain.

    Our lab’s future research will use a multidisciplinary approach to characterize the contribution of mast cells to multiple pain pathologies, as well as the modulation of peripheral afferents by Mrgprs expressed on immune cells.  Moreover, we plan to examine the role of orphan Mrgpr’s in pain conditions.  Mrgprs are only found in certain neurons and immune cells, but not in any other tissues in the body, making them attractive therapeutic targets. 

    Mentorship and Teaching Focus

    Throughout my academic training I was fortunate to be involved with multiple programs designed to improve diversity and inclusion in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.  As a mentor I intend on continuing my work by promoting my lab as a Safe Space environment for LGBTQIA+ students and postdocs. 

    My background in neuropharmacology positions our lab for a variety of student interests.  Neuroscience, Pharmacology, GPCR physiology, animal behavior and electrophysiology are all area’s I have interest and experience in.  Moreover, our most recent work incorporates immunology, and this field has become a major focus of study for the lab. 

    In conclusion, I look forward to mentoring students in our program, while also creating a welcoming environment for all students at UTMB.

  • Dr. Thomas Green, PhD

    Dr. Thomas Green received his Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Kentucky under Dr. Michael Bardo and completed his postdoctoral training at UT Southwestern Medical Center with Dr. Eric Nestler, both world-renowned scientists in the field of addiction. He was recruited to UTMB in 2009 and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology. He serves as an associate member of the Pharmacology & Toxicology, Neuroscience, and Human Pathophysiology & Translational Medicine graduate programs and is a member of the Center for Addiction Research and the Palermo-UTMB Joint PhD Program faculty. He also co-founded the Mental Health Research Group at UTMB.


    Dr. Green’s research program focuses on complex psychiatric conditions, such as addiction, depression, and anxiety, that are a function of interactions between genes and the environment. His current research using preclinical animal models focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying protective addiction and depression phenotypes that could be of therapeutic value for these disorders. Dr. Green’s research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 2010, with multiple R01 and R03 grants. He has published 62 peer-reviewed journal articles and has served as a reviewer for over 25 scientific journals.


    Dr. Green is also a dedicated educator in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) and the School of Medicine. Since joining UTMB, he has been an active course director, lecturer, and mentor, particularly in the Pharmacology & Toxicology and Neuroscience graduate programs. He has mentored multiple graduate students and medical students and participates as a summer undergraduate mentor each year. His doctoral trainees have a successful track record of publishing numerous impactful papers, being supported by competitive NIH-funded grants, and receiving competitive awards, including traineeships, fellowships, and travel awards. His graduates have earned noteworthy postdoctoral and faculty positions at such institutions as the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and the University of North Carolina Medical School. During his tenure, Dr. Green has made multiple contributions to curriculum development in the GSBS. He has created several courses for the Pharmacology & Toxicology, Neuroscience, and Postdoctoral Programs. He also co-developed the curriculum for the Pharmacology & Toxicology Master of Science degree program that was launched in 2019. He is the associate director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program and also mentors its students in the organization of the Neuroscience Graduate Program student symposium, now in its fifth year and an important component of the program.


    In addition to his teaching and mentoring, Dr. Green has served on numerous institutional, regional, state, and national committees, including being the founding chair of the Gulf Coast Consortia Mental Health Research Cluster, member of the College on the Problems of Drug Dependence, chairing program advisory and curriculum committees, and member of multiple admissions committees, among many others.
  • Dr. Rakez Kayed, PhD

    Dr. Rakez Kayed completed his PhD degree in organic and medicinal chemistry from the University of Tübingen, Germany, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Alzheimer’s and protein misfolding diseases from the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Kayed joined UTMB in 2007 as an assistant professor in the Departments of Neurology and Neuroscience and Cell Biology. Dr. Kayed is currently a tenured professor in the Departments of Neurology and Neuroscience, Cell Biology, and Anatomy. He is also a member of the George & Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, a member of the Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, and a Senior Fellow of the Sealy Center on Aging.


    Dr. Kayed’s research focuses on the mechanisms of protein misfolding and aggregation in neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Kayed’s contributions have significantly advanced the understanding of the mechanisms of neurodegenerative pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders. His laboratory has made important discoveries for the role of oligomers in synaptic dysfunction, cell death and disease progression and has developed novel amyloid-ß, α-synuclein and tau oligomer-specific antibodies. His research is funded by multiple grants from funding agencies such as the National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and Texas Alzheimer’s Research & Care Consortium, among others. His research has been published in over 140 peer-reviewed articles and has been cited more than 28,000 times. He has served as a reviewer for NIH study sections and more than 20 national and international funding agencies and foundations. He has also participated as a reviewer for more than 50 scientific journals including Nature, Science, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Molecular Psychiatry.


    In addition to his outstanding research accomplishments, Dr. Kayed goes above and beyond in the teaching and mentoring of trainees. He is dedicated to providing career guidance for students and encouraging them to gain professional skills that are vital to their long-term success. He has mentored 20 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, as well as 60 medical students, rotation students, exchange students, and high school and undergraduate students. His trainees have published peer-reviewed articles in high-impact journals and have received many local, national, and international competitive fellowships, scholarships, and awards. Dr. Kayed is actively involved in academic administration and, since 2014, he has served as the director for the Neurobiology of Disease PhD track and a member of the Graduate School Executive Committee. He also serves as the chair of the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) curriculum committee, which is responsible for revising and improving courses. Additionally, he directs and facilitates multiple courses for graduate and medical students.


    Dr. Kayed has been recognized with multiple honors including the John Sealy Distinguished Chair in Parkinson Disease Research, the GSBS Distinguished Faculty Research Award, and the Best Mentor Award from the University of Palermo, Italy.
  • Dr. Fernanda Laezza, PhD

    The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Fernanda Laezza, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, to the Mary and J. Palmer Saunders Professorship for Excellence in Teaching for a period of two years.


    Dr. Laezza received her MD from the University of Turin, Italy, and her PhD in neuroscience from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She completed post-graduate training at Washington University in St. Louis. In 2008, Dr. Laezza joined the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2015. In addition to her faculty appointment, Dr. Laezza serves in a variety of roles, including as a fellow in the UTMB Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, a member of the UTMB Center in Environmental Toxicology, a full member of the UTMB Academy of Research Mentors, and director of the UTMB Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program. She is also the co-founder and Chair of the Gulf Coast Consortia Mental Health Research Cluster and a full member of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.


    Dr. Laezza’s research focuses on the understanding of and therapies for complex brain disorders associated with genetic and environmental factors. Dr. Laezza has been continuously sponsored by extramural funding for the past 10 years, with five NIH R01 grants from the NIMH, NIDA, and the NIEHS and over six foundation awards as Principal Investigator. She holds two patents for her work and has over 60 articles in peer-reviewed publications. She teaches in both the UTMB School of Medicine and the GSBS and serves on multiple academic committees. Over the course of her career, Dr. Laezza has mentored 50 postdoctoral fellows, research associates, master’s students, foreign exchange students, high school, and undergraduate students and served as the primary PhD advisor for a total of eight PhD and MD/PhD students. Since becoming director of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Graduate Program, she led the effort to establish the Kenneth M. Johnson Endowment in Pharmacology & Toxicology to promote the growth of the program and contributed to the launch of a newly designed professional master’s degree, which includes opportunities for integrating knowledge-based learning with experiences in entrepreneurial sciences. Over the past three years, she has also been involved in the creation of six new courses covering special topics in pharmacology, neuropsychopharmacology, bioinformatics, computational toxicology, and risk assessment. For her excellence in teaching and mentoring graduate students, Dr. Laezza is highly deserving of this recognition.
  • Dr. Agenor Limon, MSc, PhD

    Dr. Agenor Limon completed his master’s and PhD degrees in physiological sciences at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Puebla, México. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), he served as an assistant project scientist at UCI and a lecturer at both UCI and California State University, Los Angeles. Dr. Limon joined UTMB in 2018 and is a tenure-track assistant professor in the George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in the Department of Neurology. He is a faculty member in the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the international joint PhD program between UTMB and the University of Palermo.

    Dr. Limon’s research focuses on the mechanisms of synaptic resilience in neurodegenerative disorders and molecular mechanisms of excitation-inhibition imbalance in neurodegenerative diseases and mental disorders.

    His research has been funded by multiple entities such as the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Amon G. Carter Foundation. He is currently the principal investigator or co-investigator on two R01 and U24 grants, including a new five-year R01 from the National Institute on Aging. He has published nearly 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and has presented his work at over 50 symposia and conferences. He has served as a reviewer or editor for multiple scientific journals and as a grant reviewer for numerous national and international scientific agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Council on Science and Technology (CONACYT) in Mexico, and the National Agency for Evaluation and Prospective (ANEP) in Spain.

    Since joining UTMB, Dr. Limon has mentored several students, including a PhD student from the University of Palermo and an international master’s student from the Università degli Studi di Trieste, Italy, who has gone on to continue his graduate studies at the Max Planck Institute of Experiemental Medicine, Göttingen/University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg-University, Mainz, Germany. Additionally, each year he has mentored a student in the Neuroscience Summer Undergraduate Research Program (NSURP). Dr. Limon’s mentoring ability is reflected in the productivity and outcomes of his students. Since 2018, his UTMB students have published seven papers, including four first author publications. After completing their training in his lab, Dr. Limon’s students have gone on to continue their education at other prestigious institutions in PhD, medical, or postdoctoral programs.

    Dr. Limon has also been active in teaching courses within the Basic Biomedical Science Curriculum, Neuroscience, and Cell Biology graduate programs and receives strong evaluations from his students. He supports the administration of graduate education by serving on the Neuroscience Graduate Program admissions committee, the UTMB/University of Palermo admissions committee, as a faculty judge for various scientific forums and symposia, and on the selection committee for the T32 Training in Alzheimer’s Pathophysiology. Overall, Dr. Limon has demonstrated that he is an excellent mentor who has had a very positive effect on the long-term career goals of all of his mentees.
  • Dr. Maria-Adelaide Micci, PhD

    Dr. Maria-Adelaide Micci received her doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Rome “La Sapienza” in Rome, Italy, and her Ph.D. in cell biology through the UTMB Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS). She completed postdoctoral appointments in the Marine Biomedical Institute and the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and served in leadership roles at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies in Rome.


    Dr. Micci began teaching at UTMB in 1996 in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics and is currently a tenured associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology. During her time at UTMB, Dr. Micci has also served as Co-Director of the Confocal Microscopy Facility and Director of the Histopathology Core Facility.


    Dr. Micci’s current research focuses on nanopulsed laser therapy for the treatment of traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative brain disorders and the development of mechanisms for resistance to Alzheimer’s disease. Her research has been well-funded and is currently supported by the National Institute on Aging, Department of Defense, and The Kleberg Foundation. She holds multiple patents for her scientific discoveries, has over 40 peer-reviewed publications and reviews, and has been an invited speaker at numerous local and international symposia and conferences. She has served as a scientific reviewer for multiple scientific journals and as a grant reviewer for the Italian Ministry of Health and NIH study sections, including the National Institute of Mental Health, Neurogenesis and Cell Fate, and Neuroscience study sections.


    During her tenure at UTMB, Dr. Micci has also shown strong dedication to graduate education. She teaches in both the GSBS and the School of Medicine and has successfully mentored 12 PhD students for rotations or dissertation studies, 1 medical resident, 11 medical students, 6 undergraduates, and 5 high school students. Two recent PhD graduates have obtained impressive positions post-graduation, one as a postdoctoral fellow at the San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan, Italy, and another as an Assistant Professor and Director of Community Engagement and Education for the newly established Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain (MIDB) at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Micci is also active in the administration of the Neuroscience Graduate Program, most notably as current chairperson of the Neuroscience Graduate Program admissions committee and member of the Advisory committee for the joint PhD program between UTMB and the University of Palermo. She holds faculty appointments in the Human Pathophysiology and Translational Medicine Graduate Program and the Neuroscience Graduate Program and serves as a member of the GSBS Kempner Fellowship Committee.


    Dr. Micci’s contributions to education have been recognized by awards such as the Neuroscience Graduate Program Excellence in Teaching Award and the Italian Flame Award for Character, Leadership And Community Service, among others.
  • Dr. Giulio Taglialatela, PhD
    Giulio Taglialatela earned his MS in biological sciences in 1984 and his PhD in pharmacology in 1988, both at the
    University of Rome La Sapienza in Italy. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of
    Biochemistry & Molecular Biology at UTMB in 1988 and completed his training in 1990. From 1990 to 1993, Dr.
    Taglialatela served as director of the Molecular and Cell Biology in the Institute for Research on Aging at the Sigma
    Tau Pharmaceuticals in Pomezia (Rome) Italy. He returned to UTMB in 1993 as an assistant professor and became
    a tenured professor in the Department of Neuroscience & Cell Biology in 2011. Dr. Taglialatela is currently the
    vice chair for research for the Department of Neurology and the director of the UTMB Mitchell Center for

    Neurodegenerative Diseases.


    Dr. Taglialatela has maintained continuous funding for the past 27 years. His research focuses on the molecular
    neurobiology of Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative disorders attracting support from the NIH, the
    State of Texas and multiple foundations. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and delivered invited
    talks nationally and internationally. Dr. Taglialatela has served on national and international grant review panels.
    Dr. Taglialatela is also actively involved in teaching to medical and graduate school students. He is the director of
    the UTMB NIH funded Neuroscience Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Significantly, his largest impact
    may be in the many graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, medical students and junior faculty he has mentored.
    He has mentored four postdoctoral fellows, was the mentor for 16 graduate students, 6 undergraduate students and
    3 high school students. He has also been a supervisory committee member for 19 other graduate students. He has
    been a leader in the innovative joint PhD program with the University of Palermo that provides opportunities for
    Palermo and US students. He has also hosted numerous medical and rotation students in his laboratory. His students
    have gone on to prestigious post-doctoral appointments and a variety of productive careers. He has been the
    President of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) UTMB chapter for more than 20 years. In this role he has
    empowered graduate students as leaders of the chapter where they have arguably the most extensive educational;
    outreach activities of any student group at UTMB. Under his leadership, the SfN received a national award for



    Affectionately known as Dr. T to students, he has garnered a host of student-centered awards. In 2013, Dr.
    Taglialatela received the highest awards conferred to a UTMB graduate faculty, the GSBS Distinguished Faculty
    Service Award and the Graduate Student Organization Distinguished Teaching Award. He has also received the
    Neuroscience Teaching Excellence Award more than once, the Department of Neurology professionalism award,
    and was honored as the Mace Bearer at the Graduate School commencement exercises. He deeply cares about the
    students he mentors, gives them the research and professional skills to be successful and helps ensure that they
    launch successful careers.
  • Dr. Gracie Vargas, PhD

    Dr. Gracie Vargas received her PhD in biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. She was recruited to UTMB in 2002 as an Assistant Professor and rose through the ranks to tenured Professor. As of September 1st, she will hold the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience after being a fellow of the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Chair in Neuroscience and Cell Biology.

    An elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, Dr. Vargas is an internationally recognized expert in biomedical optics/biomedical engineering with committee service that guides the direction of national research in medical imaging and bioinstrumentation such as through multiple NIH study section membership in these areas. At UTMB, Dr. Vargas directs the Advanced Bio-Optics Imaging Lab, conducting research at the interface of engineering and medicine in the growing field of imaging sciences. Her highly collaborative research program focuses on developing new imaging approaches for epithelial cancer diagnostics, endomicroscopic evaluation of epithelial injury and inflammation in studies of women’s health, and study of neuroinflammation through intravital and large scale multiphoton microscopy enabled by optical clearing. Her research has been funded by NIH, NSF, Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and other sources. She is currently funded by four NIH grants and an NSF grant and has a portfolio of over 60 peer-reviewed, primary research publications and a multitude of published book chapters, proceedings, and symposia.

    In addition to her outstanding record of scientific innovation, Dr. Vargas is dedicated to mentoring the next generation of scientists. She teaches in both the graduate school and medical school and has designed and directed several new GSBS courses. Throughout her tenure at UTMB, she has trained over 60 mentees encompassing high school to graduate and postgraduate levels, with trainees receiving awards and advancing successfully into such positions as faculty appointments and postdoctoral fellowships. Currently, she is training three graduate students in her lab. Dr. Vargas is highly devoted to the advancement of all students regardless of background, and mentoring students to develop their fullest potential to contribute positively to a biomedical workforce comprised of scientists of varied backgrounds and experiences. She directs the UTMB Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREPing for SUCCESS), a yearlong research-intensive training program to increase the number of trainees from groups underrepresented in the sciences entering and completing PhDs in science. The recent competitive NIH funding for PREP allows continuation of the program to continue to increase the number of URM and disadvantaged students pursuing careers in science with a new cohort of trainees matriculating Fall 2020.

    Dr. Vargas is making a definitive impact in mentoring and strengthening the persity of the biomedical work-force. Her mentoring and research have enduring value, and she is a highly valued and respected member of UTMB and the community at large.

  • Dr. Pablo Valdes Quevedo, MD, PhD

    Dr. Valdes is a neurosurgeon-physician scientist with >15 years developing and translating novel optical imaging technologies from bench to bedside to better visualize and ultimately treat brain tumors. As a dual MD/PhD, he received his MD and PhD from Dartmouth Medical School and the Dartmouth School of Engineering. He subsequently pursued a post-doctoral fellowship at Dartmouth in optical engineering, building a hyperspectral imaging system that was ultimately translated into the clinical operating room for improved brain tumor detection. Dr. Valdes’ PhD in biomedical engineering from Dartmouth allows him as a neurosurgeon and scientist to perform translational research in which he develops novel tools for intraoperative use. He completed his neurosurgery residency at Harvard Medical School, training with internationally recognized brain tumor experts, treating complex brain tumors at three top Harvard hospitals including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Harvard/Dana Farber Cancer Center. During his time in Boston, he also pursued post-doctoral research training in nanoscale brain tumor imaging technologies at Harvard Medical School and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with Nino Chiocca, MD, PhD and Edward Boyden, PhD developing a new technique called decrowding expansion microscopy to enable visualization of previously 'invisible' structures. He furthered his clinical training with the world’s expert in brain mapping, the neurosurgeon Hugues Duffau, MD, PhD, where he acquired unique skills in connectomics to 'map the brain' to enable removal of brain tumors in areas that are most critical for movement, speech, and the cognitive processes that “make us human” to ensure the best quality of life for his patients. 

    Dr. Valdes leads a neuroengineering and advanced imaging laboratory at UTMB, in addition to having a surgical practice dedicated to treating complex brain and intracranial tumors. He has over 15 years of research experience in developing new technologies to better understand, diagnose, and treat brain tumors. His neuroengineering laboratory involves basic optical engineering including instrumentation and algorithm development of optical imaging systems, pre-clinical studies for optimization and validation of these tools, and ultimate clinical deployment for intraoperative surgical guidance. Dr. Valdes believes that we can create tools due to the synergy of neuroscientists, engineers and clinicians that can ultimately be used to improve our understanding and treatment of neurologic disease. His clinical and research passion for >15 years has focused specifically on addressing the problem of brain tumors. 

    He has multiple projects currently funded by the NIH and the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas that involve creating new imaging systems including fluorescence and reflectance systems, nanoscale imaging technologies for pathology, imaging agents for in vivo fluorescence imaging of tumors and native brain structures, and fundamental investigation and development of tools for imaging brain function. 

    He is a strong believer in the value of multidisciplinary collaborations to achieve transformative results, and as such, he has collaborations with engineers and computer scientists at Rice University, chemists and optical engineers at Oregon, imaging experts and physicists at Montreal, and physician scientists at Harvard, MIT, Germany and France. 

    He has authored articles in journals including Nature Communications, Cell, Neuro-Oncology, Journal of Neurosurgery, Neurosurgery, Journal of Neuro-oncology, Journal of Neuropathology Experiment Neurology, Optics Letters, Journal of Biomedical Optics, Biomedical Optics Express. He has intellectual property from Dartmouth, Harvard and MIT including patents or patent applications. The impact of his research can be seen by over 3800 citations and over 50 articles and book chapters.

    Finally, and most importantly, he credits his mentors at Dartmouth, Harvard, MIT, and France, with his ability to pursue his passions in patient care through neurosurgery and research with engineering innovation. As such, he is a strong believer in the power of focused and nurtured mentorship in which mentors can be instrumental in helping their mentees achieve their academic, professional and personal goals. 

    Dr. Valdes was born and raised in Latin America. He moved to the United States when he was 18 years old to pursue his dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon and a scientist. As a native of Latin America, he is fluent in both English and Spanish.

  • Dr. Ping Wu, MD, PhD

    Dr. Ping Wu is a tenured Full Professor and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, Texas. She is also the John S. Dunn Distinguished Chair in Neurological Recovery since 2005. Dr. Wu serves as a faculty member in the Center for Addiction Research, the Institute of Human Infections and Immunity, and the George and Cynthia Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. In addition, she is an investigator in the TIRR Mission Connect and the Gulf Coast Consortia.

    Dr. Wu received a medical degree from the Peking University Health Science Center (previously Beijing Medical College) in 1984, and Ph.D. in Neuroendocrinology at UTMB in 1991. She then pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Florida from 1991 to 1994, focusing on recombinant adeno-associated vector (rAAV)-mediated gene delivery to the central nervous system. After serving as an Instructor in Medicine for four years at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Wu returned to UTMB in 1999 as a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurosciences, and a Member of the Marine Biomedical Institute.

    Dr. Wu is an expert in stem cell research. Her innovative techniques and research findings have earned both national and international recognition. More than two decades ago, Dr. Wu developed and optimized the culture of human fetal brain-derived neural stem cells. She then led a dynamic team, through collaboration with investigators both inside and outside of UTMB, to explore the potential of neural stem cells for neuroregeneration and neural disease modeling. The studies include 1) transplantation of primed neural stem cells to treat spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury and ALS in rodent animal models, 2) application of human and rodent neural stem cell-derived neuron/astrocyte coculture to study the pathological mechanisms of neurotrauma, neuroinfection and substance abuse, and 3) usage of human neurons/astrocytes for drug screening. Recently, her team also established the techniques to culture and generate human microglia from human embryonic stem cells. Dr. Wu’s research has been continuously supported by federal funding agencies such as NIH and DOD, institutional funds, and private foundations. She has published 8 book chapters/editorial articles, and 75 research papers in highly reputable journals, including Nature Neuroscience, Cell Host & Microbe, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Stem Cell Reports, Cancer Research, Journal of Clinical Investigation, and Journal of Neuroinflammation. She was an invited speaker on numerous national and international scientific conferences. Dr. Wu has been serving as Associated Editor, Section Editor and Editorial board member on several scientific journals, as well as grant reviewers on NIH study sections and international funding agencies. Because of the breakthrough studies on stem cells, she became the inaugural recipient of the Eric Nader Award from the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) in 2004 and received the Lynch Advancing Neurodevelopmental Sciences Award in 2022. Dr. Wu’s current studies, funded by two NIH multiple PI R01s in 2022, focus on the role of neural stem cells and microglia in brain development following insults such as viral infection and opioid exposure.

    Dr. Wu is an enthusiastic, dedicated and patient educator to train the next generation of scientists. She always encourages students to learn the basics, explore the potentials, and develop creative and independent skills. Over the last 23 years, Dr. Wu served as mentor or co-mentor for 9 postdoctoral fellows, 2 MD/PhD students, 13 PhD graduated students, 1 master student, and 2 PREP students. She also trained 13 medical students, 6 undergraduate students, and 3 high school students for summer research.