Dr. Hsiao-Tuan Chao, a child neurologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (NRI) at Texas Children’s Hospital, was awarded the highly-competitive 2018 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists.
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities. The main goals of this Fund are to help early-stage scientists develop into independent scientists and to advance undervalued areas of basic biomedical research. To fulfill that mission, the Career Award for Medical Scientists provides $700,000 of research funding spread over five years to physician-scientists who are currently receiving advanced postdoctoral/fellowship training. This award is intended to help physician-scientists embark on independent academic careers.
Chao, who is also an instructor in the department of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, associate program director of the child neurology residency program and clinical child neurologist, is one of the 13 physician-scientists from leading academic institutions in the US to receive this honor in 2018. This award will help Chao establish an independent research program to understand the mechanisms underlying transcriptional dysregulation of inhibitory signaling pathways in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders.
As an MD/PhD student in the laboratories of Dr. Christian Rosenmund, now a professor at Charité Medical School in Berlin, and of Dr. Huda Zoghbi, director of the NRI, professor at Baylor College and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, Chao developed a new mouse model that allowed researchers to remove MeCP2 from only GABAergic neurons, reproducing almost all the symptoms of Rett syndrome. In doing so, she uncovered a critical role for GABA dysfunction in the pathogenesis of Rett syndrome. Furthermore, she also uncovered that loss and overexpression of MeCP2 directly impacted the connectivity between excitatory neurons, revealing an important disease mechanism for both Rett syndrome and MECP2 duplication syndrome.
Chao is currently a postdoctoral physician-scientist in the laboratory of Dr. Hugo Bellen, professor at Baylor College of Medicine and investigator at HHMI and the NRI, where she continues to focus on understanding how single gene changes that alter transcriptional networks can affect communication between neurons. She is combining experimental approaches in fruit fly and mouse models with human sequencing data to elucidate the disease mechanisms of highly-prevalent childhood neurological conditions such as autism, intellectual disability and epilepsy.
Recently Chao, along with an international team of researchers at the Undiagnosed Disease Network, Baylor, and the NRI, discovered the association between genetic variations in the EBF3 gene and an undiagnosed developmental disorder that manifested in cognitive disability, speech impediments, poor muscle tone, impaired coordination and autistic behaviors.
Chao has been the recipient of many other notable honors such as the 2017 STAT Wunderkind Award, 2017 Child Neurology Society Outstanding Junior Member and the Neurology Research Scholar Award from the American Academy of Neurology.