ARA Scholars Program Announces Two New Scientists

ARA Scholars Program Announces Two New Scientists
Dr. Gareth Morgan (left) of UAMS, the newest ARA Scholar, visits with current ARA Scholar Dr. Peter Crooks of UAMS at Wednesday's announcement.  (Mark Carter)

The Arkansas Research Alliance announced the newest additions to its ARA Scholars program Wednesday.

Carolina Cruz-Neira and Gareth Morgan were introduced from the Governor's Conference Room at the state Capitol by Gov. Mike Beebe and ARA director Jerry Adams.

Cruz-Neira is the new director of the George W. Donaghey Emerging Analytics Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Morgan is the director of the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Cruz-Niera, born in Spain and raised in Venezuela, comes to UALR from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she was William Hansen Hall BOR Superchair in Telecommunications, Electrical and Computer Engineering. Renowned for her work in advanced technologies, Cruz-Niera has been tabbed a rising research star by BusinessWeek. 

She received a doctorate in 1995 and a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1991 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and earned a bachelor's degree in systems engineering from Universidad Metropolitana in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1987. 

Morgan, a Welshman, started at UAMS in July taking over for Bart Barlogie, the equally renowned researcher who founded the myeloma institute at UAMS.

Prior to joining UAMS, Morgan was a professor of hematology and director of the Centre for Myeloma Research at The Royal Marsden Institute NHS Foundation Trust and the Institute of Cancer Research in London, England. Internationally renowned for his research into multiple myeloma, Morgan's work is considered to be at the forefront of molecular studies related to myeloma.

He received his doctorate in the genetics of leukemia from the University of London in 1991 and his medical degree in 1981 from the Welsh National School of Medicine. Morgan is a director of Myeloma UK and a member of the Scientific Board of the International Myeloma Foundation.

The ARA Scholars program was started in 2010 and aims to recruit world-class scientists to the state's research universities whose work promises commercialization and the potential creation of high-paying jobs. Funded through the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority, it provides recipients with a three-year, $500,000 grant to continue their research in Arkansas.

Current ARA Scholars include UAMS cancer researchers Peter Crooks and Daohong Zhou, and University of Arkansas bioenergy researcher Ranil Wickramasinghe.

In addition to announcing the new Scholars, Adams named three new members of the ARA board of trustees: Rick Webb, senior vice president for global processes for Walmart Inc.; Murphy Oil president and CEO Roger Jenkins; and Andrew Clyde, president and CEO of Murphy USA, Murphy Oil's retail spinoff.

The myeloma institute at UAMS is considered the leading center for research and treatment of multiple myeloma in the world, having treated patients from 52 countries. Morgan is looking forwards forward to expanding the work started by Barlogie.

"Used to be, if you were diagnosed with myeloma, you'd have about two and a half years, and you're dead," Morgan said. "Now, we're up to about 70 to 80 percent of diagnosed patients surviving beyond 10 years, which essentially is a cure for 50 to 60 percent of them. We want to continue to be the center for myeloma research and treatment."

Cruz-Neira had served on the board of UALR's Emerging Analytics Center for about a year before being contacted about the ARA Scholars program this past spring. She had consulted in the creation of the center, which uses technology she helped develop. 

Cruz-Neira said she did some research and came to determine Arkansas offered a "level of energy and support" not found in other states.

"The people I encountered in Arkansas are really serious about pushing forward," she said. 

Cruz-Neira, on the job since July, said one of her first priorities will be overseeing expansion of the center.