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Release: Jan. 11, 2000

UI students receive prestigious dissertation awards

IOWA CITY, Iowa – University of Iowa medical student Daryl Scott and UI graduate Eric Griffin have received D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prizes for excellence in doctoral research.

The Spriestersbach Prizes, which carry a $2,500 stipend, are named for UI Vice President Emeritus D.C. Spriestersbach. They are awarded annually on a rotating basis in two of four areas: humanities and fine arts, biological sciences, mathematical and physical sciences, and the social sciences.

Scott won the biological sciences prize for his dissertation, "Molecular Genetics of Hearing Loss Loci on Chromosomes 7, 9 and 13," which details results from a UI investigation to identify genes responsible for hearing loss in children who are either born deaf or who become deaf shortly after birth.

Griffin, who completed his Ph.D. in English in 1999, won the prize in humanities and fine arts for his dissertation, "The Temper of Spain: The Forging of Anti-Hispanic Sentiment in Early Modern England, 1492-1604."

For his dissertation, Scott collaborated with UI researchers Val Sheffield, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute associate investigator; Richard Smith, M.D., professor of otolaryngology; and Lawrence Karniski, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine.

Scott and the other researchers looked at three genes that cause deafness. The researchers discovered that a mutation in a gene located on chromosome 13 caused about one-third of the deafness in children from the Midwest who were part of the study group. What is even more significant is that 95 percent of these cases had the same mutation, Scott said. This has allowed these researchers to create a rapid and reliable genetic screen that is presently being used in research and clinical settings around the world.

The researchers also studied a gene on chromosome 7 that causes a form of deafness -- called Pendred syndrome -- which combines hearing loss with goiter in the thyroid gland. Their findings have led to the creation of new models of thyroid function that may lead to changes in the clinical management of these patients.

The UI investigators are still investigating the gene located on chromosome 9. By combining research on human subjects with studies performed in deaf mice, the researchers hope to identify the gene responsible for the deafness in the near future.

Scott was honored to receive the Spriestersbach Prize and believes it not only speaks to his work but the work of the entire team.

"The work that I do is a collaborative effort between three different labs here at Iowa -- Val Sheffield's in pediatrics, Richard Smith's in otolaryngology and Larry Karniski's in internal medicine," Scott said. "I am always excited when our work receives attention because it is a real tribute to the collaborative efforts of these labs."

Scott graduates in May from the Medical Scientist Training Program with a combined M.D./Ph.D. He then plans to do his residency training for three years in pediatrics followed by a fellowship in clinical genetics. Scott is the second medical student to receive a Spriestersbach Prize. Matthew Anderson received the award in 1993.

Griffin is currently a professor of English at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. He said his dissertation is an ethnographic examination of how England and Spain had complementary cultures at the beginning of early modern times but shifted to exclusive cultures by 1600.

Griffin said he was "pleased and honored" to win the Spriestersbach Prize.

"This recognition is one more confirmation that I made the right choice when I chose Iowa," he said.

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