Thursday, January 4, 2024

Endowed chair Jenny Hsieh is battling neurodegenerative diseases with research

Endowed chair Jenny Hsieh is battling neurodegenerative diseases with research

JUNE 12, 2023 — UTSA Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience, Developmental and Regenerative Biology Jenny Hsieh has dedicated her career to learning about the brain and understanding the causes of neurodegenerative diseases. She joined UTSA in 2018 as The Semmes Foundation Distinguished Chair in Cell Biology, a position specifically created for a professor to establish and lead the UTSA Brain Health Consortium.

Hsieh is using her endowed position to work toward fulfilling her vision of improving the lives of patients with epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other acute, genetic brain disorders. Her endowment has given her the freedom to perform a broader range of research studies.

Critical research that requires a high number of trial-and-error experiments is generally not funded by grants, limiting scientists’ investigative capacity, which could hinder their innovative progress. For example, Hsieh is currently using non-human primate cells to create brain organoids that replicate brain tissue in a Petri dish. With these samples she can study how brain cells develop and observe existing pathology. While more precarious, studying the brain tissue of primates is essential to Hsieh’s research, as these experiments are much more beneficial to understanding how the human brain works than experiments on more popular models like mice. 

“The support I’ve received from the Semmes Foundation’s endowment allows us to work on innovative, outside-the-box ideas.”

The support from Hsieh’s endowed position augments her research and enables her to purchase valuable resources such as instrumentation. Endowed professors use these instruments to train students, collaborate with others and further the progress of innovative research programs.

“There really are not enough instruments to go around. Even in my active research department, only a handful of us have endowed chairs, but we have the ability and the opportunity to purchase this larger, sort of cutting-edge technology that we can share and help enhance the research of other faculty,” said Hsieh.

As a top researcher at UTSA, Hsieh was thrilled to play a key role in helping the university achieve Carnegie R1 research status last year, which has placed UTSA among the nation’s top 4% of public and private research universities.

“It is critical to our progress that we sustain this R1 status, and in order to do that we have to be able to continue to recruit outstanding competitive faculty at all levels. These endowed chairs help us bring them in,” Hsieh expressed.

Hsieh serves as the director of the UTSA Brain Health Consortium, a campus-wide transdisciplinary research initiative made up of over 40 participating full-time faculty members specializing in precision medicine, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, psychology and behavior. She also mentors graduate and undergraduate students who go on to become successful in their own independent research settings.

Learn about creating endowed faculty positions at UTSA.

“The support I’ve received from the Semmes Foundation’s endowment allows us to work on innovative, outside-the-box ideas that have the potential to lead to scientific breakthroughs. I am truly grateful for their support,” said Hsieh.

Additionally, Hsieh is a study section member for the National Institutes of Health and for the American Epilepsy Society, and she sits on the editorial board as a Reviewing Editor for The Journal of Neuroscience.

Jordan Allen

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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