Federal grant boosts chemistry student’s research

Doctoral student Hector Aguilar receives funding for his dissertation

Aguilar presents his research at the 2010 Research Conference

By Amanda Beck
Senior Communications Specialist

This summer, UTSA doctoral student, Hector Aguilar, has killed two proverbial birds with one very big stone. Funding he received from the National Institutes of Health, more than $34,000 over the next two years, will both allow him to finish his dissertation and begin his career as a chemist with a successful track record of funding.

The award, formally called the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards for Individual Predoctoral Fellowships (F31) to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, will cover the cost of tuition and research expenses for the last year and a half of Aguilar’s studies.

The recognition of Hector’s achievements through this NRSA award from NIH is a testimony to the impact he has already made in field of regenerative medicine and medicinal chemistry.  There is little doubt that he has a very, very bright future ahead of him,” said Doug Frantz, assistant professor of chemistry and Aguilar’s faculty advisor.

Aguilar was previously funded by the university’s Minority Biomedical Research Support - Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement. In fact, it was participation in that research training program that led him to apply for the grant. In order to get real-world experience in seeking funding for their research, MBRS students are required to submit grants, but they are not required to receive awards. In the past five years, there have been three UTSA students to receive funding from the Kirschstein Award.

The MBRS-RISE program recognizes the importance of experience in grant writing at the doctoral level and assists our students in developing and writing proposals,” said Gail Taylor, assistant program director of MBRS RISE. “We are very proud of Hector for his great accomplishment.

Aguilar’s chemistry project, Isoxazole Small Molecules That Induce Stem Cell Differentiation, has potential applications in the biomedical industry. His research could lead to better ways to repair heart muscle after a heart attack.

Aguilar creates probes by tagging small molecules with fluorescent dye. He then injects the probes into stem cells derived from adult cardiac tissue to see what will happen. The hope is that the probes will cause the cells to regenerate into normal heart muscle tissue, repairing any damage caused by the heart attack.

With the funding from the NIH, Hector plans to finish his Ph.D. by fall 2012. He’s already thinking beyond that date, though. He wants to continue his research and pursue teaching in academia. As a participant in the MBRS RISE program, Aguilar was not required to work as a teaching assistant. But he asked mentor Doug Frantz for the opportunity, and was able to help teach his organic chemistry class. He loved the experience, and now plans to go into teaching himself.

“I’m excited to receive this funding,” said Aguilar. “It is a huge boost of confidence that will help propel me through completing and defending my dissertation, and prepare me for a career in academic chemistry.”