KL2 Program Scholars

Phase 1 ITS Scholars:

ITS KL2 Scholars

  • Tiziana Corsello-Gorgun, PhD Provost Scholar

    Assistant Professor, Pedi CEIID Research
    Mentor – Roberto P Garofalo, MD
    Co-Mentor – Farrah Kheradmand, MD
    Co-Mentor – Heidi Spratt, PhD

    Dr. Corsello Gorgun is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Clinic and Experimental Immunology and Infectious Disease. She received her PhD degrees from two different institutions: The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in Neuroscience, and The University of Palermo in Molecular and Experimental Medicine. Dr. Corsello Gorgun continued her education as an NIEHS T32 postdoctoral trainee in the Environmental Toxicology Training Program and a Jeane B. Kempner Scholar at UTMB. Her research interests focus on the viral-, environmental- and host-specific mechanisms that contribute to the pathogenesis of respiratory viral infections in children. The ultimate goals of her research are to develop translational approaches of environmental exposure detection (biomarkers of exposure) and therapeutic strategies against viral infection airway mediated disease.

  • W. Sam Fagg, MS, PhD
    Dr. W. Sam Fagg
    Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Transplant Division
    Mentor: Mariano Garcia-Blanco, MD, PhD
    Co-Mentor: Benjamin J. Blencowe, PhD
    Co-Mentor: Muge Kuyumcu-Martinez, PhD

    I grew up in North Carolina and always had a passion for how living things worked. This became very apparent when I first began learning about Cell Biology and my career path became clear. I then enrolled in a Master's program at East Carolina University and really became immersed in cellular biochemistry and molecular biology, then worked at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a couple of years in stem cell biology. After that, I went to UC-Santa Cruz, where I got my PhD studying RNA splicing/alternative splicing and the many roles of RNA binding proteins. I have used my backgrounds in stem cell biology and molecular biology to approach difficult problems that have been overlooked or unapproached. Currently I am doing so to unravel the molecular mechanisms of myocardial infarct and heart disease. It appears that a long non-coding RNA, that is absent in the normally functioning heart, acts as a "sponge" for a particular RNA binding protein in this disease context. By dissecting the mechanisms through which the molecular pathology is executed, we can work toward RNA-based rational drug design.
  • David C. Houghton, PhD
    Houghton, David_adj
    Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
    Mentor: Kathryn Cunningham, PhD
    Co-Mentor: Denise Wilkes, MD, PhD
    Co-Mentor: Heidi Spratt, PhD

    Dr. Houghton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and a member of the Center for Addiction Research. He conducted his doctoral training at Texas A&M University and his postdoctoral fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Houghton is interested in the underlying mechanisms that motivate compulsive and impulsive behavior, particularly substance use disorders. In his clinical experience, Dr. Houghton recognized the incredible diversity among patients with the same psychiatric diagnosis and was dissatisfied with “one size fits all” treatment approaches. These insights motivated him to develop a more precise understanding of how etiological mechanisms interact to produce psychopathology phenotypes and determine whether there are sub-types of patients with unique etiological biosignatures can be targeted with precision treatment and prevention approaches. His KL2 project therefore entails application of advanced machine learning analytics to behavioral phenotyping data among chronic pain patients who use prescription opioids and are at risk for developing opioid use disorder. 

Phase 2 ITS Scholars:

ITS KL2 Scholars

  • Lucas Blanton, MD
    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.    

  • Ana M. Rodriguez, MD, MPH
    Ana Rodriguez

    Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology
    Mentor: Alan Barrett, PhD


  • Demidmaa Tuvdendorj, MD, PhD
    Demidmaa Tuvdendorj
    Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
    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 KL2 Scholars

  • Celeste C. Finnerty, PhD

    Associate Professor, Department of Surgery
    Sealy Center for Molecular Medicine


  • Jonathan D. Hommel, PhD

    Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology
    Faculty in the Center for Addiction Research


  • Heather Stevenson-Lerner, MD, PhD
    Heather Stevenson-Learner

    Associate Professor, Department of 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.


  • Stephen Williams, MD

    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

Former ITS Scholars:

ITS KL2 Scholars