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Williams wins NIA Aging Research Dissertation Award

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2007 · Volume: XL · Issue: 16

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Contact: Will Sansom
Phone: 210-567-2579
E-mail: sansom@uthscsa.edu


Earlanda Williams received a prestigious two-year National Institute on Aging research award.
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Earlanda Williams received a prestigious two-year National Institute on Aging research award.clear graphic

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Aims … preliminary results … indirect costs … budgets. Earlanda Williams, a doctoral student in the Department of Cellular and Structural Biology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, learned a great deal about submitting grants to federal funding agencies when she applied for a fellowship to further her studies of the autoimmune disease, myasthenia gravis.

Against prodigious odds, Williams, the 2005 Ambassador Scholar from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, was successful in her application and is now experiencing both the responsibility and thrill of being a funded scientist.

NIA granted only five of these awards this year
Williams received a two-year R36 Research Dissertation Award to Increase Diversity from the National Institute on Aging (NIA). Only five of these awards were made nationally this year to outstanding graduate students.

“Funding is very critical right now,” Williams said. “It is encouraging that young minority scientists can get grants and seek ultimately to contribute to the creation of new knowledge and even to the development of novel therapies for even the most vexing diseases of mankind.”

Studying aging’s effects on the thymus
She is conducting her doctoral research in the laboratory of Ellen Kraig, Ph.D., professor of cellular and structural biology. Williams is examining effects of aging on the thymus, a gland that lies on top of the heart. This gland is essential to the development of the immune system, and generally declines in function with age.

Thymus cell abnormalities and/or tumors are found in more than 70 percent of cases of myasthenia gravis, which is marked by progressive severe muscle weakness that worsens with fatigue. For many myasthenia gravis patients, disease onset occurs after 40.

“This condition is not usually fatal, but it can cause a person to lose everyday life skills,” Williams said. “We are looking at molecular mechanisms that could provide insights into this and other autoimmune diseases.”

Dr. Kraig, who has mentored Williams in the laboratory for three years, speaks very highly of her.

Honored with prestigious David Carrillo Memorial Award
“Landa is the star of a truly outstanding class,” Dr. Kraig said. “She has excelled academically, typically receiving the highest score in the class for the exams in the molecular and cellular core courses. In recognition of her performance both in the classroom and in laboratory rotations, Landa was presented with the prestigious David Carrillo Memorial Award. This honor is given only rarely in order to recognize a Ph.D. student who has shown extraordinary promise early in his/her graduate career.”

Received travel grant to national immunology meeting
Williams’ excellence enabled her to win a travel grant to the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) national meeting in Miami, paying both her expenses and Dr. Kraig’s. Her abstract to the AAI meeting was selected for oral presentation.

Dr. Kraig knew Williams would do well in her laboratory.

“As you might imagine, I was thrilled when Earlanda asked to pursue her Ph.D. dissertation in my laboratory and, as predicted, she has been absolutely fabulous,” Dr. Kraig said. “I have no doubt she will continue to make us proud in the years to come.”

Personal information: Earlanda Williams is the daughter of Jearnell and Freddie Williams of Flatonia, about 90 miles east of San Antonio. She is a 2002 alumna of Texas State University, where she finished with a grade point average of 3.87 and was a member of several national honor societies. Dr. Ron Walter, husband of the Health Science Center’s Dr. Christi Walter, was her mentor at Texas State. Williams’ husband, Rollin Collins, also is a Texas State alumnus.

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $536 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $14.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.

 
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