Two Miller School Labs Recognized as “Labs of the Year”

Two labs on the Miller School of Medicine campus recently received 2014 Lab of the Year Awards from the University of Miami Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

The Miller School awardees were the labs of Grace Zhai, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, who uses the fruit fly to study the genetic and cellular basis of neural development, degeneration, and protection, and Theodore Lampidis, Ph.D., professor of cell biology and anatomy, who is investigating mechanisms of exploiting increased glucose metabolism in tumor cells.

“Being selected for the Lab of the Year Award is clearly an honor considering the hundreds of excellent labs here at UM,” said Lampidis, noting that the recognition also “comes at a particularly fortuitous time since this year we have not been as successful as in the past in bringing in a lot of outside funds to support our research and so we have been operating on a minimal budget and skeletal crew.”

He credited Huaping Liu, M.D., senior research associate, who runs the lab and has worked with Lampidis for the past 15 years. “She is meticulous in her approach to all laboratory matters,” Lampidis added. “We are grateful to UM for this distinction.”

Zhai also credits her lab’s stellar compliance to lab manager Zoraida Diaz-Perez. “She’s the greatest lab manager. She leads by example and makes sure that everyone adheres to the rules.

“Cleanliness and safety are taken very seriously in our lab,” added Zhai, noting that it’s especially important because her research uses fruit flies, which are very sensitive and can be easily infected with mites or other parasites.
“We have even instituted a lab cleaning day,” said Zhai. “We have a motto, which is ‘A clean bench produces clean results. A safe lab is a happy lab.’”

Also, for the second year in a row, the chemistry lab of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Leonidas G. Bachas, Ph.D., was given the top Lab of the Year award. Burjor Captain, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, was also recognized for his lab’s record of excellence in safety and compliance.

The 2014 Laboratory of the Year recognizes those laboratories that have shown outstanding performance. The Miller School is home to the overwhelming majority of University labs.

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety through its Laboratory Safety Program rigorously evaluated more than 1,500 labs on the three UM campuses to ensure their compliance with all applicable local, state and federal regulations and to make sure good laboratory practices are implemented for the protection of laboratory employees, the community and the environment.

Jairo Betancourt, biosafety manager for the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, commended all of the honorees and said that the premise of the awards is twofold. “No. 1 is the safety of the laboratorians, and No. 2 is compliance with federal, local, and state regulations,” he said.

For more information on the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, visit the office website.

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