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Banerjee, McCullough received 2023 Kopchick Research Award

Dr. Louise McCullough and PhD student Anik Banerjee

MD Anderson UTHealth Houston Graduate School Immunology PhD student Anik Banerjee and his advisor, Louise McCullough, MD, PhD, were awarded the 2023 Dr. John J. Kopchick Research Award, which provides pilot funding for innovative research projects in any area of biomedical science. The award supports up to $50,000 of research expenses over a one-year period.

Their research project titled, "Social Interaction Harbors Intestinal Bacteria that Protect Against Isolation-Induced Metabolic Dysfunction," investigates how gut microbiota and metabolites regulate inflammation, host behaviors and metabolism in the context of aging and social isolation through the microbiota-gut-liver-brain axis.

“This funding could potentially aid in deciphering the intricate intracellular communications among cells that make up the neurovascular unit (neuronal, glial, vascular, and immune compartments) and how they are altered with social isolation at the single cell resolution,” said Banerjee.

Banerjee and McCullough employed several innovative techniques, including metagenomics and metabolomics sequencing, and metabolic analysis, for their research project.

“In collaboration with Dr. Juneyoung Lee, an Assistant Professor here in Neurology, our laboratory has recently set up two instruments (Chromium X and Visium CytAssist from 10X Genomics) and established protocols using cell barcoding technology and spatial transcriptomics for single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) that will provide us with cell-specific and unprecedented high-resolution RNA landscape in the brain affecting synaptic plasticity, microglial activation, and astrogliosis in the post-social isolation setting.” 

“Social isolation and loneliness are very detrimental to health, and increase the risk for stroke, dementia, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity,” said McCullough. “A recent report from the surgeon general has identified that loneliness has become a major public health concern, as more and more people are reporting that they feel lonely and isolated, especially older individuals. The generous funding from the Dr. John J. Kopchick Research Award will help us understand why loneliness is so detrimental, and how it affects both the gut and the brain at a mechanistic level.

Banerjee expressed his appreciation for the support he received not only from the award but also from his Graduate School mentors.

“With the mentorship of Dr. Louise McCullough and Dr. Juneyoung Lee, with UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School, I am pursuing a field of research that encompasses highly targetable agents and emerging therapies as a post-candidacy PhD student,” said Banerjee. “By pursuing and completing this segment of the proposed research I will fuel my long-standing and personal passion to study innovative and translational interventions encompassing bacteriotherapy for lonely individuals, especially in the elderly population.”

The Kopchick Research Award provides pilot funding for innovative research projects in any area of biomedical science. All GSBS students who are in the PhD or MD/PhD degree programs and are in good academic standing are eligible to apply. Learn more about this award and all the scholarship and awards offer via the Graduate School at

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