UAMS Researchers David Ussery, Hong-yu Li Named ARA Scholars

By Ben Boulden

Ussery and Li each were presented with a certificate by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, ARA Board of Trustees Chair Sonja Hubbard and UAMS Provost and Chief Academic Officer Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., and UAMS College of Medicine Dean Pope Moseley, M.D. Each will also receive $500,000 to further his research.

The ARA program recruits highly respected researchers to Arkansas with the goal that through collaboration and innovation, the research can lead to jobs and economic opportunity.

Hong-yu Li, Ph. D., left, receives his ARA Scholar certificate from Gov. Hutchinson.

Li, left, and Hutchinson hold Li’s ARA Scholar certificate.

“The talented scientists we are announcing today give Arkansas incredible advantages in the area of research and discovery,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “And in this hyper-competitive environment, not only states throughout the U.S. but countries around the world are recognizing the positive influence science can have on the economy. Arkansas Research Alliance continues to help move Arkansas forward with its commitment to economic prosperity through knowledge-based jobs.”

Ussery joined UAMS in May and is director of the Arkansas Center for Genomic and Ecological Medicine at UAMS. He has been working with biomedical informatics analysis of bacterial genomes since 1995. Biomedical informatics extracts knowledge from large amounts of biological data with computers rather than in a traditional laboratory. His work in third-generation sequencing has some exciting potential applications for a range of emerging infections. For example, he is collaborating with the Arkansas Department of Health on a project that could lead to rapid diagnosis of the Zika virus.

Li joined UAMS in April as a professor in the UAMS College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. In May he was named to the Helen Adams & Arkansas Research Alliance Endowed Chair. An endowed chair is created with donations of $1 million or more with the chairholder using the interest proceeds for research, teaching or service. Using a bequest from Helen Adams, UAMS has provided $500,000 to fund the chair, with the remaining $500,000 coming from his appointment as an ARA Scholar.

“Before coming to Arkansas several years ago, I served on the board of the Georgia Research Alliance, which has been the model for the ARA,” UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., said. “Now, I serve on the ARA board, and as I have served as chancellor of UAMS, it has been greatly satisfying to see the substantial progress that has been made in building the alliance.”

Before joining UAMS, Ussery was the Comparative Genomics Group lead at Oak Ridge National Labs in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Before that he was at the Technical University of Denmark for more than 15 years.

Ussery, a native of Springdale, Arkansas, received a doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford University. He earned his master’s degree in biophysical chemistry at the University of New Mexico and his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from William Jewell College.


Ussery, left, and Hutchinson hold the certificate announcing Ussery is an ARA Scholar.

His research group has published more than 150 papers since 2000, including two papers that have been cited more than 1,000 times. He has been a co-applicant on grants totaling more than $30 million since 2010.

His course on Comparative Microbial Genomics, taught at the Technical University of Denmark from 1997-2013 is in its 19th year. Workshops based on this course have been held in five countries. Additionally, Ussery has collaborative projects with groups in the United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Spain as well as in the U.S.

Li is an internationally recognized scientist in the field of cancer treatment research. In his research, he designs and synthesizes small molecules through a variety of novel approaches to develop new agents for cancer treatments.

He was recruited from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy in Tucson. Before Arizona, Li worked about 10 years at Eli Lilly & Company’s Lilly Research Laboratory in Indianapolis, the last five years there as a principal research scientist.

He received his doctorate in marine natural product chemistry in 1995 from the University of Tokyo in Japan and was an assistant professor in Tohoku University in Japan. After coming to the United States, Li was first a postdoctoral associate in Department of Chemistry at Columbia University in New York City and then the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Previously named ARA Scholars from UAMS are Peter Crooks, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the UAMS College of Pharmacy; Daohong Zhou, M.D., a professor in the Division of Radiation Health of the UAMS College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences; and Gareth Morgan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UAMS Myeloma Institute.

Also at the news conference, Jerry Adams, ARA president and CEO, recognized two new ARA Fellows, Weida Tong and Paul Howard, both research scientists at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Pine Bluff. ARA Fellows receive $75,000 to use for their research.

The ARA Fellows program recognizes university research leaders who are already working in Arkansas at one of the state’s five research institutions: UAMS, Arkansas State University, University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The addition of researchers from NCTR is a result of the critical role that NCTR plays with the state’s research universities.

Previously named ARA Fellows from UAMS are Laura James, M.D., director of the UAMS Translational Research Institute, and Michael Owens, Ph. D., a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.