Research Opportunities

Research Opportunities for Medical Students

UTRGV School of Medicine students have the opportunity to work with STDOI researchers in laboratories located in Brownsville, Edinburg, and San Antonio. Current projects with opportunities for students from the School of Medicine are listed below.

Occasionally, short-term (eight to ten weeks duration), entry level research associate positions are available to assist with grant-funded projects. Please check the HR website for availability of these positions.

Curran and Blangero Laboratories

Genetic Analysis of Complex Diseases

STDOI investigators have been leading a long-term study of Mexican American individuals belonging to very large extended pedigrees from San Antonio since 1991. During the course of the study, vast amounts of phenotypic and genomic data have been collected. The phenotypic information associated with the project is primarily related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity, and brain structure and function. 

Three students can be accommodated during the summer of 2018 at the STDOI-Brownsville. There are several different options for project choices, based on the area of disease interest. Research projects could be solely wet-lab, solely dry-lab (analytical) or involve a combination of work in both wet labs and dry labs. 

  • Opportunities for wet lab work involve several aspects of human molecular genetic analysis including such tasks as the extraction of DNA and RNA from human blood samples, genotyping of DNA sequence variants (both low and high-throughput), sequencing of both DNA and RNA, and phenotyping assays in human plasma samples. 
  • Opportunities for dry-lab work involve working with members of the statistical genetic analysis team to analyze genetic and phenotypic data using the state of the art STDOI computing resources, including an 11,000 processor computer cluster, and the software, SOLAR, that was developed in-house by STDOI investigators and is now used by over 5000 users across the world for analysis of genetic data.

Contact Dr. Joanne Curran at

Johnson Laboratory

Ocular Perfusion Pressure and its Relationship with Glaucoma in Hispanic Families

One to two students can be accommodated in the Summer of 2018 at the STDOI-Brownsville to conduct analyses related to a glaucoma project. Glaucoma is a heterogeneous group of eye disorders that result in progressive damage to the optic nerve. It is a leading cause of irreversible blindness with no known cure. The exact cause of glaucoma still remains elusive but several theories postulate the causative mechanisms underlying its pathogenesis. Intraocular pressure (IOP) is a known modifiable risk factor and is usually associated with the disease process whereby high IOP causes damage to the axons of the optic nerve. An emerging theory is the role of vascular mechanisms in glaucoma pathogenesis; specifically, diminished ocular perfusion pressure (OPP) which results in ischemic damage and/or reperfusion injury to the optic nerve tissue and axons. Therefore, it is the aim of this project to explore the relationship of OPP and glaucoma in two family-based cohorts – The San Antonio Family Eye Study (SAFES) and the Maracaibo Aging Study (MAS). This research project will be conducted under the direction of Dr. Matthew Johnson, Ph.D. (SAFES Principal Investigator) and Dr. Gladys Maestre, M.D., Ph.D. (MAS Principal Investigator).

Contact Dr. Matthew Johnson at

GATE Laboratory

Genetic and Translational Epidemiological Research on Complex Diseases

As part of STDOI, our research group has been involved in genetic studies of complex diseases such type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, diabetes complications, gallbladder disease, metabolic syndrome, childhood obesity and its cardio-metabolic correlates, acanthosis nigricans, birth weight and adulthood diseases, premature birth, HIV and arboviral infections. The major goals of these studies are to identify genetic and environmental factors and their interactive influences on variation in a given complex trait. Importantly, we have been using advanced molecular, omics, statistical, and statistical genetic technologies to localize, identify and functionally characterize genetic variants or biomarkers that contribute to susceptibility to a given disease or variation in a given quantitative trait related to a disease. 

  • Opportunities for wet lab work involve introduction and use of the following laboratory techniques: Extraction of DNA and RNA from human blood samples, Quantitative RT-PCR, Genotyping, DNA gel electrophoresis, Western Blotting, Cell culture, Cellular differentiation, and Multiparametric flow cytometry. 
  • Opportunities for dry-lab work include clinical epidemiology design; application of mathematical models to health; univariate and multivariate statistical analysis; statistical genetic analyses to analyze genetic and phenotypic data obtained from family- and population-based studies; and bioinformatics. Several computer programs such as SOLAR, SPSS and Excel will be used to perform statistical and statistical genetic analyses. Training in analysis of whole-genome gene expression datasets (e.g., RNA-Seq) also is available.

Three to six students can be accommodated in the summer of 2018 at STDOI-Edinburg in the EREBL Laboratories. Available mentors include Drs. Ravi Duggirala, Chris Jenkinson, Srinivas Mummidi, Rector Arya, and Juan Carlos Alvarenga.

Contact Dr. Chris Jenkinson at