Texas Tech University

2018 Barnie E. Rushing Jr. Faculty Distinguished Research Award Recipient

By Katy McCall, College of Human Sciences Marketing and Communications Intern

nikhil dhurandhar research award texas tech university college of human sciencesThe College of Human Sciences (COHS) would like to congratulate Nutritional Sciences Professor and Chair, Nikhil Dhurandhar, Ph.D. for receiving the 2018 Barnie E. Rushing Jr. Faculty Distinguished Research Award in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). His research contributions to obesity treatment, dedication to scholarship, and ability to think creatively merit this recognition.

The Barnie E. Rushing, Jr. Award is granted to faculty members who contribute to areas of STEM and the social sciences, humanities, and creative arts disciplines. Texas Tech colleges select their nominees, who are then evaluated by a committee of Associate Deans of Research based on quality of scholarship, quality of publications or creative works, and quality of reference letters. The final two nominees from each category are submitted to the Texas Tech Parents Association, who makes the final two selections. Recipients are awarded an honorarium of $3,000 and an engraved university medallion.

For the past 35 years, Dr. Dhurandhar has dedicated his research to obesity and has treated 15,000 patients in the process. His work focuses on the molecular biological aspects of obesity and diabetes, in which he is leading the field of research on adenoviruses (SMAM-1 and Ad36) and their potential causal influences on obesity.

"I pursue research to contribute to society," Dr. Dhurandhar said. "Nonetheless, recognitions for research such as these provide visibility and a higher platform, which helps in furthering research mission and its influence."

He is well known for coining the term "Infectobesity," to describe the obesity of infectious origin. Furthermore, Nikhil has identified a protein of a virus that could serve as a new treatment for diabetes without having to depend on insulin. Some in the scientific community were initially skeptical of his findings. However, many research groups have published findings that independently confirm Dr. Dhurandhar's previous work identifying the role of adenoviruses in obesity.

"Nikhil enjoys scientific debate and is every bit as willing to have his own ideas challenged, as he is to challenge the ideas of others. He does this joyously, open-mindedly, and without artifice, successfully challenging ideas without challenging persons themselves," Steven Heymsfield, Ph.D., Professor from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University said.

In addition to his work on adenoviruses, Dr. Dhurandhar has a broad experience of research including: pharmacological treatment of obesity, meal replacement research, protein consumption, glucose disposal, and high-level mathematical modeling. These experiences taught him how to write for a wide-ranging interdisciplinary audience, a skill he challenges his mentees to obtain.

Diana Thomas, Ph.D., Mathematics Professor at the United Stated Military Academy said that Nikhil helped her write outside of her comfort zone as they co-authored a study on obesity together.

"Nikhil is an excellent mentor. He pushes us all to truly step outside one discipline and think beyond our borders," Diana said.

Two of his students achieved great success in the International Association for the Study of Obesity Young Investigator Award Competition. At the 2006 International Congress on Obesity his student, Magdalena Pasarica, won first place out of 65 candidates from all over the world. His postdoctoral fellow, HaNa Na, was one of five finalists out of 75 candidates for the 2014 Young Investigator Competition at the ICO in Malaysia.

"I do not believe any other scientist in the world has had two trainees achieve finalist status in these competitions, which speaks to the excellence of the research in his laboratory," Richard Atkinson, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor from University of Wisconsin said.

From discovering a new treatment for diabetes, to preparing his students for success, Nikhil's contributions to his field made him an excellent candidate for this award. He's published over 130 papers, accrued $7 million in external funding, and expanded the research field for over 30 mentees.

"Nikhil represents all that a scientist should be—highly achieving, honest, humble, objective, and a superb mentor. He personifies all of the aspects of an ideal scientist and educator," Richard said.