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Monthly Momentos: May 2024

This ongoing blog series celebrates people, milestones, and achievements from across our health system. Content is adapted from monthly updates shared with the University of Utah Board of Trustees.

May ushers in commencement season, an exciting time to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates. This month was also marked by a significant research discovery into the genetic cause for spinocerebellar ataxia 4 (SCA4), a rare neurological disease, along with other well-deserved recognition for our colleagues.


  • Mari Ransco, Senior Director of Patient Experience at U of U Health, was recognized by Becker’s Healthcare as one of 54 CXOs (chief experience officers) to know in 2024. The CXOs honored are innovative thinkers, strategic planners, brand storytellers, and fierce advocates for their patients and team members.
  • William Smith, PhD, chief executive administrator for Huntsman Mental Health Institute and professor of ethnic studies and education, culture, and society, was appointed a Distinguished Professor for his outstanding contributions to academia and his dedication to teaching.
  • Amy Barrios, PhD, professor of medicinal chemistry, and H. Joseph Yost, PhD, professor of neurobiology, were selected as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a lifetime honor that celebrates excellence in research and commitment to mentoring the next generation of scientists.
  • Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) selected Sara Bybee, PhD, assistant research professor of nursing, and Julie Valentine, PhD, RN, professor of nursing, to serve as Ambassadors. These advocates commit to ongoing contact with and education of Congressional members and staff regarding the importance of nursing research and funding for the NINR.
  • Tim Brusseau, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Health & Kinesiology, and Julie Lucero, PhD, associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion at the College of Health, received a three-year R25 grant from the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The U will be the coordinating center for the STEP-UP Project, a summer research opportunity that places 11th and 12th-grade students from underrepresented communities in a nine-month mentorship program.

Achievements in Education

Celebrated the graduation of 1,300 health science graduates:

Monica Bertagnolli, MD, speaks to graduating medical class of 2024, University of Utah


  • University of Utah medical school alum Monica Bertagnolli, MD, (pictured above) director of the National Institutes of Health, gave this year’s commencement address for the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine. 
  • The School of Dentistry joined other health science schools and colleges in the forward-thinking Saturday Academy program in May. Dental students, faculty, and staff hosted more than 50 students in grades 4-12. Students received a hands-on introduction to key concepts on oral health, including how pH affects teeth, how bacteria produce plaque, and understanding chemical reactions by making “elephant toothpaste.”
  • The Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library produces 3D printed models to create better experiential training for Emergency Medicine physicians. Rigid tracheas were swapped out for a flexible, 3D-printed, thermoplastic urethane (TPU) trachea to better mimic the feel of the human trachea, providing a better mechanism for practicing cricothyrotomies.

Achievements in Clinical Care

Achievements in Research

  • After 25 years, research led by Stefan Pulst, MD, Dr. med, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology, and K. Pattie Figueroa, neurology project manager, has uncovered the genetic cause of a serious progressive movement disease called spinocerebellar ataxia 4 (SCA4), bringing answers to families and opening the door to future treatments. The disease is especially common in Utah, and the researchers were able to trace its origins in the state back to one of the original Salt Lake Valley pioneer couples. The findings were published in Nature Genetics.

  • For people with autism, gastrointestinal (GI) issues are common, prompting many to wonder whether GI problems contribute to autism’s behavioral or sensory features. U of U Health scientists, led by microbiologist June Round, PhD, have discovered that missing microbes may influence social behavior by protecting the gut. The findings were published in Nature Communications.
June Round, PhD
The Round Lab aims to translate knowledge from laboratory experiments into personalized therapies.
Michael Good, MD

Michael Good, MD

Michael Good is CEO of University of Utah Health and A. Lorris Betz Senior Vice President for Health Sciences. Good ensures the professional and educational success of the 25,000 talented faculty, staff, and students who comprise U of U Health, one of the nation’s premier academic health systems. He received an MD from the University of Michigan and completed residency and a research fellowship in anesthesiology at the University of Florida.  

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