About the Department
The Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology supports the mission of UNTHSC – by striving to achieve excellence in research and teaching, and service to science and the community. The Department contributes to this mission by educating outstanding researchers and health care providers in the basic and applied biomedical sciences. Our core areas of concentration include Host Defenses and Infectious Diseases, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Health and Disease, and Cancer Prevention and Experimental Therapeutics. The Department‘s world-class faculty utilize state-of-the-art technologies to develop and enhance the students’ educational and research experience.
Brief History of the Department
The current Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology is the product of a merger between two departments: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology merged with Department of Microbiology and Immunology. The Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) began in 1970 and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology was one of the founding departments. Faculty at the University of North Texas in Denton taught biochemistry, until 1975 when the Department of Biochemistry was formed at TCOM and many of the faculty transferred to TCOM. The founding Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology was Elizabeth Harris, Ph.D, who became an Emeritus Professor in 1995. The founding Chair of the Department of Biochemistry was Robert Gracy, Ph.D. Dr. Gracy eventually became the Dean of Research and left UNTHSC in 2006 to become the Vice-President of Research at University of Texas at San Antonio, where he remains today.
Each of the departments trained Graduate Students, but this was done under the auspices of the University of North Texas in Denton. In 1993 however, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) was established and began offering both M.S.- and Ph.D.-level studies and training students for D.O./M.S. and DO/Ph.D. degrees in conjunction with TCOM. Each Department offered programs in their respective field, e.g. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Microbiology and Immunology.
In 1997, the two departments were merged under the leadership of a new Chair, Ronald Goldfarb, Ph.D. who was recruited from the University of Pittsburg Cancer Institute. The newly formed department was named the Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology. It however maintains the two separate graduate programs, and the budget was similarly merged. During his tenure as Chair, Dr. Goldfarb recruited several faculty whose focus were on cancer biology and therapeutics, which expanded the focus of the research within the department. During his time here, Dr. Goldfarb began the Institute for Cancer Research, which is still centered in the Department and guided by Jamboor Vishwanatha, Ph.D., Dean and Professor in our Department. In 2002, Dr. Goldfarb left for a position in a biotech company whose focus is on cancer therapeutics. Jerry Simecka, Ph.D. was Chair from 2003 to 2011. In July 2011, Dr. Steve Mifflin, Ph.D. was named Interim Chair. In September 2012, Johnny He, Ph.D. was named Interim Chair.
Some Selected Highlights since 2004:
In 2005, the Flow Cytometry and Laser Microdissection Core was established. This was a result of an NIH Shared Instrument Grant used to purchase a cell sorter and flow cytometer. This facility is a tremendous asset not only in providing advanced instrumentation for cell sorting and analysis, but it has been an important in the recruitment of faculty in several Departments across UNTHSC. The Department continues to oversee this facility, and in an effort to maintain user fees at low levels, the department provides support for the Core manager (Xiangle Sun, M.D., Ph.D.) and service contract. User fees are used for some support for the Core manager, but mostly to compensate for consumables and reagents used in the facility. The Core is described in more detail later in this document.
Laszlo Prokai, Ph.D. was recruited in 2005 from the University of Florida in Gainesville, as the Robert A. Welch Professor in Chemistry. Dr. Prokai is an internationally known scientist in medicinal chemistry, mass spectrometry and proteomics. He established a state-of-the-art Mass Spectrometry Facility, and collaborates with scientist within the institution as well national and international researchers. The mass spectrometry facility provides service to scientist within our institution, and this facility is described in more detail later in this document. In 2011, Dr. Prokai was named the Robert A. Welch Chair in Biochemistry
In 2005, Karol Gryczynski, Ph.D. and his brother, Ignacy Gryczynski, Ph.D. joined the Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology and the Department of Cell Biology and Immunology. They were recruited from the Center for Fluorescence Microscopy at the University of Maryland. After obtaining funds from the Emerging Technologies Funds of Texas in 2007, the Center for Fluorescence Technologies and Nanomedicine (CFTN) was established. Karol Gryczynski, Ph.D. was the Director. Ignacy Gryczynski, Ph.D., Julian Borejdo, Ph.D. and Benjamin Harris, Ph.D. (Regents Professor) were also part of this productive group. The CFTN has provided new fluorescence technologies for researchers at UNTHSC, the state of Texas, and around the world. There are frequent visiting scientists to work with the faculty in CFTN, and the CFTN provides training opportunities for the local, national and international scientists. The CFTN is described in more detail later in this document.
In an effort to improve recruitment of graduate students, Jamboor Vishwanatha, Ph.D., who was then the Associate Dean of GSBS, proposed in 2007 to expand the graduate programs which focused on health related topics, rather than discipline-focused. In the Fall of 2007, the Cancer Biology Program was started and was centered in the Department of Molecular Biology and Immunology. This was envisioned and developed into an interdepartmental program that includes faculty from multiple departments. Alakananda Basu, Ph.D. was appointed as the Graduate Advisor and guide the development of the training program.
Drs. Jamboor Vishwanatha and Andras Lacko have established active research programs using nanotechnology to treat disease. Both programs are concerned with cancer therapies, but Dr. Vishwanatha’s program expanded to include diseases of the eye.
In 2010, the Department was reviewed by an external group of consultants. One of the recommendations in order to ensure future growth and success was to increase the focus of the department on inflammatory responses and diseases. Although we have a diverse group of researchers, this is an area in common with many and therefore will be a focus in future hires and training.
As indicated earlier, research is a major focus for our Department, as it is critical to graduate student training and scholarly work. The department provides office staff support, as well as supports the infrastructure. In particular, we believe that the department provides some of the best instrumentation and expertise for research at the Institution. As a result, we help support the institutional research efforts through these resources and will continue to improve the instrumentation, technical support and training to foster future goals. It is critical that faculty at UNTHSC are not limited in the types of questions that they can ask or approaches that can be used during the course of a research project.
The instrumentation is housed on the 4th floors in RES and EAD:
The Flow Cytometry and Laser Microdissection Core is in a dedicated facility and managed by a scientist supported by a combination of user fees and state support.
The Center for Fluorescence Technology and Nanomedicine (CFTN) is under the direction of Karol Gryczynski, Ph.D., along with Ignacy Gryczynski, Ph.D. and Julian Borejdo, Ph.D.
The Mass Spectrometry Facility is in the laboratory of Laszlo Prokai, Ph.D., Robert A. Welch Chair, and he provides this resource primarily on a collaborative basis, along with costs to run the assays.
Preclinical Services is in the laboratory of Jerry Simecka, Ph.D. This is essentially a Contract Research Organization (CRO) that primarily works with biotechnology companies and academic researchers to do small animal studies. This expertise and resources are available to researchers at UNTHSC, as well, at a lower cost. Each of these resources is also involved in training students or postdoctoral fellows. They also provide a source for establishment of collaborations with researchers at UNTHSC and around the world.