The Scoop: A Publication of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston

Dragoi receives EUREKA award

Dr. Valentin Dragoi

Dr. Valentin Dragoi

An innovative approach to brain research developed by a scientist at the Medical School has been selected for funding by a National Institutes of Health (NIH) initiative designed to support high-impact, medical investigations.

Dr. Valentin Dragoi, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy, has been awarded a four-year, $1.2 million grant through the initiative called Exceptional, Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration (EUREKA). The project is titled “Real-time population coding underlying behavioral decisions.”

His approach to studying the brain could further the understanding of dissociative disorders that affect about one in 20 Americans.

Dragoi focuses on a region of the brain known as the cerebral cortex, which is a slender carpet of nerve cells or neurons that covers the cerebrum and plays a major role in sight, hearing, and motor skills.

The brain is amazingly difficult to interpret because of the high degree of interconnectivity among brain networks, Dragoi said. For instance, sensory inputs are successfully processed by neuronal networks in different cortical areas. Each cortical area consists of multiple layers that contain characteristic patterns of connections with other cortical regions.

Whereas previous research has focused on individual neurons, Dragoi proposes to study the signals of populations of neurons in different regions of the cerebral cortex, including visual cortex and high-level cortical areas. Tests will be conducted in an animal model.

“Examining how populations of neurons in multiple cortical areas interact to produce behavior may significantly increase our understanding of how neuronal networks operate in both normal and dysfunctional states,” he said. “We made tremendous progress in understanding the language of individual neurons. Yet, how populations of cells communicate among each other to control behavior is virtually unknown. The new challenge in neuroscience is to decipher the language of populations of brain cells.”

During the experiments, large populations of neurons will be recorded simultaneously using multiple, high-density electrode arrays in three key cortical areas involved in perceptual decisions.

“The experiments that we will perform have the potential to provide key insight into the dynamic transformations of the population code during a behavioral task,” Dragoi said. “Although the idea that behavior emerges from interactions among neuronal networks is not new, it has never been tested empirically under the framework of population coding.”

The award is a great honor not only for him but the department and the Health Science Center as well, said Dr. John Byrne, June and Virgil Waggoner Chair and chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy.

“The EUREKA award to Valentin Dragoi will be a major boost to his research on understanding the operation of normal and dysfunctional brain cortical neuronal networks and their impact on the decision-making processes of the brain. We can look forward to many significant scientific breakthroughs from this outstanding young scientist,” Byrne said.

“The fact that only a few grants were awarded within the entire National Institutes of Health is an indicator of the competitiveness of our neuroscience research program at the national level,” Byrne added.

To receive a EUREKA grant, a research proposal must be linked to the mission of one of the NIH institutes. Dragoi's research is connected to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Dragoi received his doctorate at Duke University and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a recipient of numerous awards, including the James S. McDonnell Award, the Pew Scholar Award, and the Merck Award.

— Robert Cahill, Office of Institutional Advancement, Media Relations

Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine presents RsVP Program

The Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine invites faculty to attend the first in a series of lectures through the newly formed Reynolds Visiting Professor Program (RsVP). Dinner and a lecture are scheduled for Sept. 24 in MSB 2.103.

Dr. Mindy Fain, from the University of Arizona Medical Center, Tucson, will speak at 6:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. The lecture, dinner, and one hour of CME credit is provided at no charge.

Fain is the co-director of the Arizona Center on Aging, the Director of the Arizona Reynolds Program of Applied Geriatrics, and the Director of the Arizona Geriatric Education Center. Her topic will be “Death by Bedrest: Deconditioning in the Elderly.”

To attend, please e-mail your name, credentials, affiliation, e-mail address, and phone number to Rhonda Bailes.

UH master’s degree topic of meeting

Thinking about getting a master’s degree in teaching? The University of Houston offers a Master’s of Education in Teaching degree with an emphasis in the health sciences.

The meeting about the degree program is scheduled for noon Tuesday, Sept. 8 in MSB B.605.

Classes are held in the Texas Medical Center, usually on Monday and Thursday evenings.

The spring 2010 admission deadline is Thursday, Oct. 1.

Admissions applications must be submitted online using Apply Texas.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) must be taken within five years of applying to the program. This is required for all applicants except for applicants who have already earned a terminal degree (M.D., Ph.D., or Ed.D.).

When completing the online admissions form, applicants should apply to the University of Houston, Main Campus, and the emphasis area that should be selected is “TEACHING.”

More information about the program may be found online.

Internal Medicine debuts e-publication

The Department of Internal Medicine proudly announces the UT Houston Journal of Medicine. The journal is a monthly e-publication that offers reviews, case reports, articles, images, and EKGs submitted by house staff and medical students to reinforce medical knowledge.

The electronic publication provides clinically based case studies and offers board and practice-relevant core knowledge. Internal Medicine continues to explore new and improved ways to increase medical knowledge and skills, and the UT Houston Journal of Medicine is another step in the right direction.

House staff and medical students are encouraged to submit journal articles to Internal Medicine Chief Resident Dr. Mark Fasulo for publication. Please note that the chief residents will edit online journal articles, as appropriate, in order to ensure consistency and accuracy. The newsletter will be featured on the Chief’s Corner.

2009 Student Retreat

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The Medical School went Hollywood at the annual student retreat. First-year students were welcomed into the Medical School family through friendly competition and informative sessions and treated to the talents of the second-year students.
— Dwight Andrews, Office of Communications, Medical School
— Andrew Kirkpatrick, Student, Medical School


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Events to Know

August 28

Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Christi Blakkolb, chief resident of surgery, presents, “Vascular & Thoracic Trauma Surgery Conference.”
7–8 a.m., MSB 2.103.

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department Grand Rounds: James Bennett presents, “Sports Medicine (upper or lower extremities).”
Noon–1 p.m., MSB B.605.

September 2

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. James Grotta, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology, presents, “Stroke.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

September 3

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Emmanuel G. Melissinos, clinical professor of surgery, presents, “Salvage vs. Amputation: Current Thoughts.”
7–8 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME available.

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Jeff Brodsky (University of Pittsburgh) presents, “Molecular chaperones and protein conformational diseases.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.103.
Reception to follow in MSB 1.180.

September 9

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Raymond Martin, professor of neurology, presents, “Headache.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

September 10

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Michael Chang (Wake Forest University) presents, “Management Strategies for Abdominal Hypertension and Open Abdominal Wounds.”
7–8 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME available.

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Tim Fothergill (UTHSC) presents, “SpaA and its importance in the formation of pili in C. diphtheria.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.103.

September 15

Free informational seminar on heartburn treatment without incision. Sponsored by the Minimally Invasive Surgeons of Texas.
6:30 p.m., UT Physicians Bellaire, 6700 West Loop South, Suite 500. For more details, visit

September 16

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Parveen Athar, assistant professor of neurology, presents, “Neuromuscular Disorders.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

September 17

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Jay A. Johannigman (University of Cincinnati Medical Center) presents, “Management of Acute Lung Injury in the Surgical ICU.”
7–8 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME available.

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Yi Xu (Texas A&M University Health Science Center) presents, “Interactions between B. anthracis and lung epithelium.”
4 p.m., MSB 3.301.
Reception to follow in MSB 1.180.

September 30

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Gage Van Horn, professor of neurology, presents, “Parkinson Video Presentation.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.


Dr. Jacqueline Lappin, assistant professor of surgery, was elected president-elect of the Texas Transplantation Society.

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