Philanthropic Updates from The University of Texas at Dallas

Biomedical Researcher Earns Major Grant from Rita Allen Foundation

By Daniel Steele  |  February 3, 2020

DR. MICHAEL BURTON, an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, has been named a 2019 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar. This award will provide $150,000 in funding over three years to support Burton’s research into the nature of pain.

Since 1976, the Rita Allen Foundation has awarded grants to early career biomedical scholars in the fields of cancer, immunology and neuroscience while also supporting pain research. The foundation’s annual awards are presented to innovative researchers whose work, while containing aboveaverage risk, has transformative potential for their fields.

Burton joined the UT Dallas faculty in 2015 as a postdoctoral research associate in the pain neurobiology research group led by Dr. Ted Price BS’97, Eugene McDermott Professor and neuroscience program head. He became an assistant professor in 2017 and is one of five researchers in the 2019 class of scholars whose work relates to the biology of pain.

“The Rita Allen Foundation Scholars are a remarkable group of early career researchers,” said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, president and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation. “Michael Burton was selected this year through a highly competitive process, and we warmly welcomed him at our annual symposium this summer. Michael and others in the 2019 cohort of Rita Allen Foundation Scholars exemplify the spirit of the award — driven by seeking innovative approaches to open new frontiers in immunology, cancer, neuroscience and the crucial, complex problem of chronic pain.”

Now the principal investigator for the University’s Neuroimmunology and Behavior Lab, Burton investigates the interconnectivity of the immune and nervous systems, exploring their interplay to better understand the mechanisms involved in pain plasticity. His lab has three areas of focus: inflammation, aging and cannabinoid signaling.

The foundation grant provides both vital funding and distinguished recognition for this important research. Previous scholars have established themselves as fundamental contributors in their fields, winning prestigious awards such as the Nobel Prize and National Medal of Science. Burton, who also earned the 2019 Mitchell Max Award for Research Excellence from the National Institutes of Health Pain Consortium, understands the significance of this award.

“To receive the 2019 Rita Allen Foundation Award in pain is an overwhelming honor,” Burton said. “It means that my ideas in understanding cellular mechanisms in cannabinoid signaling are robust and represent a clear need in project development and understanding in the field. This project serves to help resolve some debate about several aspects of cannabinoid signaling and, with the support of the Rita Allen Foundation Award, begins to lay important groundwork for future related projects in my lab.”

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