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Dr. Russell Ray

Dr. Russell Ray, assistant professor of neuroscience and McNair Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine, has been awarded two prestigious honors, a fellowship in the Parker B. Francis Fellowship Program and a March of Dimes Basil O’ Connor Starter Scholar Research Award. Both are to support his work in mapping developmental, genetic and functional organization of neural circuits in the brain to understand how they contribute to physiological and behavioral functions.

The Park B. Francis Fellowship Program was created to support researchers in the early part of their career. Funding is awarded for three years to fellows working with experienced mentors in diverse areas of research related to lung disease. Ray is one of 10 others out of applicants from across the country who were awarded this year.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Huda Zoghbi, professor of molecular and human genetics, pediatrics, neuroscience, and neurology at Baylor, as well as director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator,

Ray will work to uncover how neurons in the central nervous system are organized to help regulate breathing and the role they play in respiratory disorders. He will use a multifaceted approach, including turning certain neurons on and off and examining their gene expression profiles, to develop comprehensive models of how these neurons fit into the broader brainstem respiratory circuitry and to understand more clearly mechanisms of poor respiratory function associated with several childhood developmental syndromes.

“The work supported here sets the stage for understanding how brainstem abnormalities play a role not only in respiratory disorders, but also in psychological and neurodegenerative diseases,” said Ray.

Ray’s work also will be supported by The March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award, which is given to young scientists at the start of their independent careers and to researchers whose mission matches that of the March of Dime’s – to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant death. The award is given over a two year period.

Both awards are highly competitive and known as recognitions given to promising young researchers; many past winners have gone on to published in top scientific and clinical journals and their discoveries have benefited patients worldwide.