Southwestern Medical Foundation/UTSW Cary Council Awards Grants to Three Early-Stage Researchers

Members raised nearly $100K in funding for the research awardees who will investigate new evidence-based pathways that can treat some of the world’s most intractable illnesses.

This year’s winners from UT Southwestern —Olutoyosi “Toy” Ogunkua, M.D., Luis Sifuentes-Dominguez, M.D, and Chika Nwachukwu, M.D., Ph.D.—bring the total number grants awarded by the Council since its founding five years ago to nine. [Images via UTSW]

The Cary Council, a joint organization of UT Southwestern and the Southwestern Medical Foundation, has named its three 2020 grant recipients who will work to further innovation in medicine in today’s critical times.

Members of the Cary Council raised around $100,000 for three promising early-stage researchers from UT Southwestern. Each grant awardee has a different clinical focus, but will use the money to explore new evidence-based pathways that can treat some of the world’s most intractable illnesses.

Launched in 2015 by Southwestern Medical Foundation (SWMF) and UT Southwestern (UTSW), the Cary Council is a group of emerging community leaders dedicated to educating the next generation on the role medical research, education, and patient care plays in improving health and strengthening Dallas.

The Council is based on Dr. Edward H. Cary’s legacy to “inspire a great citizenship to greater deeds,” and each year works to support and strengthen the work of UTSW and the Foundation, a public charitable corporation that aims to advance progress in medicine.

Members of the Cary Council listen intently during a behind-the-scenes tour of the Zhijian James Chen Lab at UT Southwestern in 2019. [Photo: UTSW]

Southwestern Medical Foundation, UT Southwestern Medical Center, and the Cary Council each year support early-career investigators with seed funding that can be leveraged on other grant applications.

The 2020 recipients join six other recipients named in previous years. In total, awardees have received $6.8 million in follow-on grants, according to Michael Kahn, founding chairman of the Cary Council.

Kahn hopes the grants will encourage the researchers to stay local, which could ultimately drive “future scientific discoveries at UT Southwestern.” He was inspired to form the Cary Council after his late mother’s battle with glioblastoma, and has since grown it to become an organization that fuels progress in leading-edge science.

“We have always thought about impact from two vantage points: community and research,” Kahn said. “In a post vaccine world, the importance of research, education and care in our backyard is increasingly clear.”

The grant awardees, which were chosen by the Cary Council’s Steering Committee, were announced at a recent virtual celebration attended by UT Southwestern and the Southwestern Medical Foundation leaders. UT Southwestern President Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky and Foundation President and CEO Kathleen M. Gibson showed their support of the impending research.

“I would like to reflect on what we’ve seen from the first two rounds of grant recipients, who have been supported through the generosity of the Cary Council,” Dr. Podolsky said. “When you consider that they represent the leverage of $300,000 in initial funding into nearly $7 million, that’s a pretty exceptional return on investment, and it says a lot about the ability of the Cary Council to really see the talent and potential of these researchers.”

This year’s grant awardees are Olutoyosi “Toy” Ogunkua, M.D., Chika Nwachukwu, M.D., Ph.D., and Luis Sifuentes-Dominguez, M.D.

Amanda Eagle George, Chair, Cary Council: “Philanthropy is vital in advancing early-stage research, which may be too nascent to attract other funding sources.”

Dr. Ogunkua’s research focuses on maternal bleeding and hemorrhage. His goal is to limit the hemorrhaging women can have after a caesarian section by studying the use of tranexamic acid prophylactically in clinical trials, per UTSW.

Dr. Nwachukwu’s work centers around identifying high-risk cervical cancer patients who could be candidates for more aggressive treatments. She focuses on gynecologic cancer, women’s health, and global oncology initiatives.

Dr. Luis Sifuentes-Dominguez is studying inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). He uses cutting-edge genomic approaches to help identify novel genes that play a role in early-onset IBD, according to UTSW. He plans to continue studying the interaction of the environment with genes associated with IBD.

“Philanthropy is vital in advancing early-stage research, which may be too nascent to attract other funding sources,” Amanda George, the new incoming chair of the Cary Council, said. “So it has been rewarding to see the Cary Council’s previous grant recipients demonstrating tremendous and tangible results. We could not be more proud of the Cary Council for seeing the importance of support for young investigators.”       

Quincy Preston contributed to this report. The story was updated with additional information and photos on Jan. 12, 2021, 2:17 p.m.

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