Graphic: UMMC Excellence in Research Awards
Although COVID-19 cancelled this year’s ceremony, the Office of Research recognized the achievements of its scientists in obtaining extramural funding.
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Hero Awards augment annual research excellence honors

Published on Monday, October 5, 2020

By: Karen Bascom

The University of Mississippi Medical Center recognized the following faculty, staff and students during the 2020 Excellence in Research Awards.

Usually, the Office of Research hosts a ceremony honoring the awardees. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they shifted to a video format, distributed through the Medical Center’s research listserv.

Portrait of Dr. Richard Summers

“COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to recognize the recipients of this year’s awards in new and innovative ways,” said. Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research.

Summers praised the “innovation” and “flexibility” demonstrated across campus in 2020.

“I have never been more proud of the research community here at UMMC,” he said.

The medallions are based on the cumulative amount of extramural funding received for an investigator’s original research. This year, the Office of Research also granted COVID-19 Research Hero Awards, recognizing the unique contributions of faculty, staff and students during the pandemic.

UMMC received near-record levels of funding and the most individual grants and awards in its history in fiscal year 2020, despite the challenges of the past several months.

“In a time of great uncertainty, our scientists have stepped up to ensure Mississippians are taken care of during this pandemic and has shown the importance of a strong research mission to an academic medical center,” Summers said.

Platinum Medallion – $5,000,000 total

Dr. Michael Garrett, professor of pharmacology and toxicology

Garrett studies the genetics of complex yet common diseases, such as kidney disease, hypertension and diabetes, in order to find new targets for future drug treatments. He also leads UMMC’s Molecular and Genomics Core Facility.

Dr. Celso Gomez-Sanchez, professor of pharmacology and toxicology

Gomez-Sanchez studies primary aldosteronism, a common cause of hypertension. Last year, he licensed a series of monoclonal antibodies he developed for diagnosing this condition to a biotechnology company.

Dr. Jason Griggs, associate dean for research, School of Dentistry

Professor and former chair of the Department of Biomedical Materials Science, Griggs studies the breakage patterns in ceramic and metallic dental implants to find new ways to construct these materials.

Dr. Michael Ryan, professor of physiology and biophysics

Ryan studies hypertension, kidney and vascular disease in conditions such as lupus and preeclampsia. An associate dean for student affairs in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, he also leads programs training young investigators in cardiorenal diseases.

Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research

Summers leads UMMC’s research and extramural funding efforts, including clinical and translational research and telehealth applications. Professor and former chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, he has studied cardiovascular disease in that field and mathematical models of physiology.


Gold Medallion – $1,000,000 total

Dr. Denise Cornelius, assistant professor of emergency medicine

Dr. Sally Huskinson, assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior

Dr. Seth Lirette, assistant professor of data science

Dr. Jose Miguel-Hidalgo, professor of psychiatry and human behavior

Dr. Aimee Parnell, associate professor of pediatrics-cardiology

Dr. Rob Rockhold, deputy chief academic officer

Dr. Damian Romero, professor of cell and molecular biology

Dr. Kedra Wallace, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology

Dr. Junie Paula Warrington, assistant professor of neurology


Silver Medallion – $500,000 total

Dr. Yingjie Chen, professor of physiology and biophysics

Dr. Caroline Compretta, assistant professor of preventive medicine

Dr. Sarah Glover, professor of medicine-digestive diseases

Dr. Ritesh Tandon, associate professor of microbiology and immunology

Dr. Zhen Wang, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics


Bronze Medallion – $250,000 total

Dr. Yuanyuan Duan, associate professor of biomedical materials science

Dr. Barbara Gisabella, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences

Dr. William Hillegass, associate professor of data science

Dr. Erin Taylor, instructor of physiology and biophysics

Dr. Jorge Vidal, associate professor of microbiology and immunology


COVID-19 Research Hero Awards

Informatics: Creation of a COVID-19 registry

Krishna Ayyalasomayajula, research informatics analyst

Fremel Backus, intelligence program manager

Alex Castillo, executive director of informatics and analytics

Ashish Jannela, research informatics analyst

Ramona Sandlin, manager of enterprise information and honest brokers


Innovation: Design of an emergency use ventilator

Dr. Charles Robertson, associate professor of anesthesiology


Clinical trials: Leading the initiation and management of COVID-19 trials

Dr. Gailen Marshall, professor of medicine and R. Faser Triplett Chair of Allergy and Immunology


Testing: Internal COVID-19 testing and validation

Dr. John Bates, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology

Dr. Sarika Jain, assistant professor of pathology

Dr. Patrick Kyle, professor of pathology


Internal COVID-19 test kit assembly and volunteering on the front lines

UMMC Students


View the video slideshows here.