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Phase 1 ITS Scholars:

ITS Scholars - Phase 1

Heather Stevenson-Learner

Associate Professor – Pathology
Mentor: Cornelis Elferink, PhD
Co-Mentor: Laura Beretta, PhD

Heather Stevenson-Lerner is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology, Division of Surgical Pathology at the University of Texas Medical Branch.  Her clinical focus includes liver, transplantation, and gastrointestinal pathology.  Prior to becoming faculty at UTMB in 2014, she completed a fellowship in the Transplant Pathology Division at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.  Dr. Stevenson-Lerner leads UTMB’s Liver Diseases Diagnostic Management Team, which is popular with hepatologists, transplant coordinators, fellows, and residents. 

Heather is actively involved in several grant-funded clinical research projects including studies in patients with chronic hepatitis C (HCV), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).   Primary research interests include studying the role of the hepatic immune response, including macrophages and lymphocytes, in fibrosis and HCC development.  Her laboratory has also developed a Spectral-imaging platform to characterize and quantify these populations in human formalin-fixed liver biopsy tissue. 

Dr. Stevenson-Lerner earned her BS from Colorado State University and worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prior to coming to UTMB for her training in the combined MD/PhD program.  Her PhD training was in the department of experimental pathology under the guidance of Dr. David Walker.  She completed residency training at UTMB in 2013 and is board-certified in anatomic and clinical Pathology.

Dr. Stevenson-Lerner received a University of Texas Rising STARs award, is on the executive committee for medical school admissions, and received the Best Anatomic Pathology Faculty Award from UTMB’s pathology residents and fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year.  She is also a recent recipient of a career development award from the Institute for Translational Sciences' KL2 (ITS Scholars) program.


Ikenna Okereke

Associate Professor – Surgery Cardiothoracic Surgery
Mentor: Mark Hellmich, PhD
Co-Mentor: Richard Pyles, PhD

Lucas Blanton

Associate Professor – Internal Medicine Infectious Diseases
Mentor: David H. Walker, MD

Dr. Blanton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine – Division of Infectious Diseases.  He attended medical school at UTMB, completed his internal medicine residency training at the Medical University of South Carolina, and returned to UTMB to pursue fellowship training in infectious diseases.  He is active in the clinical practice of infectious diseases – treating HIV and general infectious diseases in both the inpatient and outpatient setting.  He has a special clinical interest in vector-borne diseases, and his research is focused on the the study of tick- and flea-borne rickettsioses.  While practicing at UTMB, Dr. Blanton helped recognize the reemergence of murine typhus in Galveston – a disease that had apparently disappeared from the area since the late 1940s.  He has since worked to characterize the ecology of the reservoirs and vectors of Rickettsia typhi on the island.  His research has also included field work for the collection of ticks; characterization of pathogens from ticks; studies to investigate rickettsial cross protection; and serosurveys to assess human exposure to various rickettsial pathogens.  While active in research and clinical practice, Dr. Blanton enjoys contributing to the education of medical students, residents, and fellows at UTMB.    

Phase 2 ITS Scholars:

ITS Scholars - Phase 2

Ana Rodriguez

Associate Professor
Mentor: Allan Brasier MD

Demidmaa Tuvdendorj

Assistant Professor
Mentor: Nicola Abate, MD

Dr. Tuvdendorj's passion is stable isotope tracer techniques that allows one to measure in vivo kinetics of different substrates (e.g., proteins, lipids and glucose). Through studies of both animals and humans her research focus is to understand the relationship between substrate kinetics and insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes related diseases. A special interest of her research is a connection between adipose tissue morphology, triglyceride kinetics and insulin resistance related pathophysiological conditions.

Phase 3 ITS Scholars:

ITS Scholars - Phase 3

Associate Professor
Department of Surgery Sealy Center for Molecular Medicine
Associate Professor
Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology
Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology
Faculty in the Center for Addiction Research
Associate Professor, Urology and Radiology
Chief, Division of Urology
Robert Earl Cone Professorship
Director of Urologic Oncology
Director of Urologic Research
Co-Director Department of Surgery Clinical Outcomes Research Program
Associate Professor
Department of Otolaryngology, Division of Head & Neck Surgery
NIH Award: “Targeting Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Head and Neck Cancer” K08CA184915 (15Apr2015- 31Mar2020, PI: Watts)