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Two Texas A&M Health faculty members recognized as Presidential Impact Fellows

Johnson and Zhou recognized for their commitment to advancing knowledge through transformational learning, discovery and innovation

Two faculty members from Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) have been selected as Texas A&M University Presidential Impact Fellows for 2021: Natalie Johnson, PhD, associate professor in the School of Public Health, and Yubin Zhou, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology.

Created by former President Michael K. Young, this award recognizes the excellence of Texas A&M faculty who are considered rising stars in their respective fields and are committed to advancing Texas A&M’s mission to promote knowledge through transformational learning, discovery, innovation and impact for Texas and the world.

As part of the fifth class of Presidential Impact Fellows, Johnson and Zhou join more than 75 colleagues recognized in past years for this prestigious award. This year, they join 18 other faculty members from other colleges across campus, such as the Bush School of Government and Public Service, and the College of Engineering, that were chosen for this scholarly award.

Natalie Johnson

Johnson’s research interests include air pollution exposure, particularly effects on infants and children following prenatal exposure, including susceptibility to respiratory infections and asthma. She is interested in nutritional interventions to reduce oxidative stress associated with maternal exposure to protect against these common childhood diseases.

“This award will give me the opportunity to enhance my current research projects to include high-risk, high-reward aims,” Johnson said. “By working with my department head Dr. Mark Benden and mentors Dr. Lisako McKyer and Dr. Ivan Rusyn, I have developed several career recognition goals focused on innovation in toxicology and public health.”

“Dr. Johnson is successfully pushing her scholarship forward to impact her field and beyond,” said Shawn Gibbs, PhD, MBA, dean of the School of Public Health. “Her research impacts the lives of all Texans and many across the country. I know that she makes our school a better place, not only through her scholarship, but through her many contributions to the academic programs within the School of Public Health.”

Johnson is the vice chair of the interdisciplinary program in Toxicology, and she was the 2017 recipient of the Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Johnson received her bachelor’s and PhD from Texas A&M University in Biology and Toxicology, respectively, and she completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Yubin Zhou

Zhou’s lab, located at the Center for Translational Cancer Research in Houston, focuses on immunotherapy, optogenetics, and protein engineering research, and designing smart biologics and intelligent cell-based therapies for neurodegenerative disorders, autoimmune diseases and cancer.

Recently, Zhou and his lab created a molecule, called COSMO, or caffeine-operated synthetic module, that can potentially determine if caffeine can be used to fight off cancer, certain viruses and infectious diseases, such as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Zhou has been the recipient of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Fellow Award and Special Fellow Award, the American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award and the Texas A&M College of Medicine Research Excellence Award.

“I feel extremely honored to be recognized among my fellow colleagues,” Zhou said. “I’m grateful to work at an institution that honors its faculty members in such a way.”

“This award recognizes the impact that Dr. Zhou has made on our college and for Texas A&M University as a whole,” said Amy Waer, MD, FACS, dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “He continues to be a leader in research and is entirely deserving of this recognition.”

Zhou earned his medical degree and clinical training in internal medicine from the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in 2003 and a doctorate in biochemistry from Georgia State University in 2008.

Presidential Impact Fellows retain their new title for life, so long as they remain a faculty member in good standing. Each recipient receives an annual stipend of $25,000 for three years. The goal of this investment is to make their research, scholarship, and other professional contributions more highly recognized nationally and internationally and to increase the likelihood that Presidential Impact Fellows will receive increasingly prestigious professional recognitions.

— by Tim Schnettler and Gracie Blackwell

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