January 19, 2012

Research Staff Awards honor contributions to discoveries

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From left, Savannah Williams, Jiong Shi and Margo Black, R.N., pose with Susan Wente, Ph.D., at the Research Staff Awards luncheon earlier this month. (photo by Cunxi Li)

Research Staff Awards honor contributions to discoveries

Margo Black, R.N., Jiong Shi and Savannah Williams are the recipients of the 2011 Research Staff Awards at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The awards, which recognize laboratory and administrative staff for research excellence, were announced earlier this month during a luncheon at the University Club.

“Since 2004, the Research Staff Awards have endeavored to recognize the contributions of our laboratory staff, without whom we would not be forging ahead, making new discoveries, innovating new, more efficient research protocols or, very importantly, securing the types of funding a research enterprise of our standing requires,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences.

“The efforts of Margo Black, Jiong Shi, Savannah Williams and all previous Research Staff Award winners are what keep Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s research enterprise moving forward,” she said.

Black, manager of clinical research projects in the Ian M. Burr Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes in Pediatrics, received the Vivien Thomas Award for Clinical Research.

A certified clinical research professional, Black coordinates Vanderbilt’s participation in the TrialNet type 1 diabetes research consortium.

She’s been “tireless in her efforts to make families feel empowered to influence the course of diabetes research,” division director William Russell, M.D., principal investigator of the Vanderbilt TrialNet clinical center, wrote in his nomination letter.

“Margo’s enthusiasm, leadership, vision and hard work have led to Vanderbilt becoming one of the leading centers in the world in the area of clinical trials to understand and prevent or delay type 1 diabetes,” wrote Alvin Powers, M.D., director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center.

Shi, senior research specialist in the laboratory of Christopher Aiken, Ph.D., received the Edward E. Price Jr. Award for Basic Research.

She has added significantly to the lab’s studies of HIV infection, wrote Aiken and Sebastian Joyce, Ph.D., professors of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, in their nomination letters.

Shi earned a master’s degree in etiologic biology from the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai, China. During the past nine years, “Jiong has become an invaluable member of my team and has contributed to numerous NIH-funded grants and publications,” Aiken wrote.

Her “technical wizardry,” critical thinking skills and generous spirit have made her a “go to” person for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the lab who want to learn new techniques, he added.

Williams, research assistant II in the laboratory of Roger Cone, Ph.D., was recognized for excellence in Contributing to Multi-investigator Teams.

After joining Cone’s lab in 2008, Williams became primary research assistant for a large drug discovery program run with Vanderbilt’s High-Throughput Screening facility.

Nine months later, Cone, chair of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, was able to write an NIH grant, which received funding for four years. “Nine months … probably sets some kind of record,” he wrote in his nomination letter.

Williams designed a high-throughput screen for compounds that could lead to new treatments for obesity, and contributed to the project’s first paper, published last year. As his lab manager, she “has been highly successful in this job as well,” Cone added.

Research Staff Award recipients are given a crystal trophy and a check for $1,000.