UF neuroscientist honored with first Dr. Mavis Agbandje-McKenna Award

doctor mcKenna seated outdoors in nature and smiling
Portrait of the late Dr. Mavis Agbandje-McKenna

By Todd Taylor

University of Florida biochemistry researcher Mavis Agbandje-McKenna, Ph.D., was world-renowned for her innovative work into advancing gene therapy treatments for various diseases.

Agbandje-McKenna, who died in March 2021 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is remembered by colleagues not only for her scientific accomplishments but as a dedicated mentor and teacher.

To honor her legacy, the Dr. Mavis Agbandje-McKenna Distinguished Research Mentoring Award was created to acknowledge the impact of research mentors and their critical role in creating a culture of resilience, career advancement and success in the College of Medicine.

At UF College of Medicine Research Day on April 6, the inaugural award was presented to Sara Burke, Ph.D., an associate professor of neuroscience and associate director of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory.

doctor bihorac presents an award trophy to doctor burke. both women stand in the upper levels of an auditorium. On the lower floor, researchers have their work displayed on rows of boards.
Dr. Azra Bihorac (left) presents the award to Dr. Sara Burke

In presenting the award, Azra Bihorac, M.D., senior associate dean for research at UF’s College of Medicine, said: “Mentorship was woven throughout Dr. Mavis’ life story and her scientific successes. She even wrote an autobiographical article titled, ‘I Am Here: It Took a Global Village.’ She envisioned mentoring as a way to pay it forward and foster the success of researchers at every level.”

Burke, she said, is carrying on that legacy. “Dr. Burke is dedicated to mentoring at all levels,” Bihorac said. “Along with mentoring Ph.D. students and postdocs, she established the Summer Neuroscience Internship Program for undergraduate students interested in pursuing graduate training in neuroscience but who have limited research opportunities.”

Since its inception, the Summer Neuroscience Internship Program, or SNIP, has received over 1,200 applications and trained nearly 100 students, approximately 75% of them from underserved communities.

“I am profoundly honored by receiving this award. For me, training new scholars and researchers is one of the reasons I love being a neuroscientist,” Burke said. “I have had supportive mentors at every stage of my career, including now as an associate professor. I am exhilarated that I am paying that forward and I will strive to live up to Dr. Agandjie-McKenna’s legacy of mentoring excellence.”