Published June 7, 2013
Richard B. Bankert, VMD, PhD, professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Zhen Yan, PhD, professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, have received 2013 SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence.
Both professors were awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities, which recognizes the work of those actively engaged in scholarly and creative pursuits beyond their teaching responsibilities.
Bankert, an internationally recognized expert working at the translational intersection between clinical medicine and basic science, has made major contributions to biomedical research.
His research defines the molecular and cellular events that shape the function of human tumor associated lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell — to design and develop cancer therapies.
He was the leading proponent of the idea that cancer cells cannot grow in culture because they are deprived of the cancer patient's tumor-microenvironment. One of his seminal works was the development of human tumor xenografts in immunodeficient mice models, which help predict the therapeutic efficacy of lab protocols before they are used in patients.
As an educator and mentor, Bankert has served as primary thesis research adviser for 10 PhD graduate students and several students in the combined MD/PhD program. He has also dedicated himself to training postdoctoral fellows and dozens of clinical fellows.
A prolific scholar, he has published 132 papers and has been an invited speaker at several national scientific conferences and research organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic. Bankert also has four patents for his discoveries of coated cells, microflotation devices and liposomal microparticulate cytokine preparation methods.
Bankert's research has had continuous National Institutes of Health grant support since at least 1989, with funding of more than $10 million. His current research support amounts to over $920,000 per year.
Yan’s studies, which have been central for advancing molecular neuroscience, are significant to the fields of both biology and medicine. Her research is aimed at understanding the synaptic action of various neurochemicals that are linked to mental health and illness, such as dopamine, serotonin, stress hormones and disease susceptibility genes.
Her studies use a combination of electrophysiological, biochemical and molecular biological approaches as well as disease models to understand the pathologies of certain aberrant pathways in disease processes. Through her research using animal and cell-culture models, she has revealed numerous key steps in the cell biology of receptor regulation, tying in molecular players relevant to a variety of brain disorders ranging from schizophrenia and autism to Alzheimer’s disease.
A committed educator, Yan has been the primary adviser for seven PhD graduate students and is currently mentoring three PhD students and one master’s student. She has also trained 10 postdoctoral students since 2000.
She has published over 90 peer-reviewed papers; these oft-cited studies have appeared in journals including Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Neuron, Molecular Psychiatry and The Journal of Neuroscience. She has also been senior or contributing author on eight review articles and book chapters.
Yan has received numerous grants and many honors recognizing her exemplary service record, including the Independent Investigator Award from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression and UB's Exceptional Scholar Award for Sustained Achievement.
Between 2001–2008, Yan was awarded grants totaling over $5.4 million. Her scholarship from 2008–2013 is reflected in the four active grants she holds, totaling $4.5 million.