About AAA

The American Association for Anatomy is an international membership organization of biomedical researchers and educators specializing in the structural foundation of health and disease. AAA connects gross anatomists, neuroscientists, developmental biologists, physical anthropologists, cell biologists, physical therapists, and others to advance the anatomical sciences through research, education, and professional development. To join, visit anatomy.org.

Collage of AAA 2021 Award Recipients

(individual headshots available upon request)

AAA Honors 17 Scientists Advancing Education and Discovery in Anatomical Sciences, Healthcare, and Related Fields

January 27, 2021

ROCKVILLE, MD—Seventeen academics, researchers, and scientists are being recognized for their significant contributions to the anatomical sciences and the future of anatomy education and research by the U.S.-based international society representing 2,300 members in anatomy and anatomy-related disciplines. Through these awards, grants, and scholarships, the American Association for Anatomy (AAA) continues to elevate, celebrate, and advance—even in a pandemic—the foundational science of anatomy and its application in healthcare, allied health, and beyond.

Although AAA’s awards program culminates in celebrating these 17 honorees, awards, grants, and scholarships are available year-round. AAA is currently—through February 1—accepting submissions for the Early-Career Anatomist Publication Awards, which recognize excellence in scientific research manuscripts by early-career researchers published in AAA’s three peer-reviewed journals: The Anatomical Record, Anatomical Sciences Education, and Developmental Dynamics. Eligible applicants can find details and apply at anatomy.org/awards.

In the major categories already awarded, this year’s esteemed honorees are:

A.J. Ladman Exemplary Service Award

Lynne Opperman, PhD, FAAA, of Texas A&M University College of Dentistry in Dallas is Regents Professor, Head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, and Director of Technology Development.

Dr. Opperman is Past President of AAA and current President of the Association of Anatomy, Cell and Biology and Neurobiology Chairpersons. An AAA member since 1998, she has served on numerous committees and task forces including, among others, 125th Anniversary, Program, and Advisory Committee for Young Anatomists (now CECA). An AAA Fellow since 2010, Dr. Opperman was pivotal in creating the Fellows Grant Award Program in 2016, which aims to advance federal funding of anatomical research.

With more than 5,700 research citations, Dr. Opperman is an oft-invited speaker on topics related to mentorship and her research, which includes craniofacial suture development and bone development growth and repair. She was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2019 in recognition of her research accomplishments, mentorship, and service.

Having mentored more than 140 students, Dr. Opperman trains not just academics, but academics who understand industry and the patent process – notable because her company holds five US patents for devices related to bone reconstruction.

Dr. Opperman was born and raised in South Africa, where she completed her PhD before coming to the United States as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Her success in the United States provides an example for trainees and young faculty throughout the world for what is possible with hard work and a mind open to opportunity.

Henry Gray Distinguished Educator Award

Robert M. Klein, PhD, FAAA, of the University of Kansas School of Medicine is Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and Chancellor’s Club Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology. For 45 years, Dr. Klein’s students have recognized his passionate, student-oriented approach to preclinical curriculum. Said a colleague, “For me, his enthusiasm and skill in linking the science and art of medicine was instrumental in sparking my interest in academic medicine as a career.”

Dr. Klein’s leadership was essential in changing KU’s curriculum and in successful accreditation visits. In addition to administration, he remains an active educator and facilitator for small-group, case-based, collaborative learning sessions. Remarked Klein, “I work to guide students to become life-long learners – a requirement of future physicians.”

Dr. Klein is a leader in the use of virtual microscopy for medical education, as well as in organizing national and international events advancing the teaching of anatomy, histology. and embryology. He co-authored two books and published numerous papers on advances in medical education.

An AAA member since 1977, Dr. Klein served on the Educational Affairs Committee and, in 2015, was recognized as a Fellow. He has been named a Charter Member of the Academy of Medical Educators and an Honorary Alumnus of the KU School of Medicine, and he has been recognized with numerous teaching awards including the Alpha Omega Alpha Robert J. Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award and the International Association of Medical Science Educators Master Teacher Award.

Henry Gray Scientific Achievement Award

A. Wayne Vogl, PhD, FAAA, of The Life Sciences Institute at The University of British Columbia is Professor in the Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences and recipient of AAA’s highest scientific honor for his countless contributions to the anatomical sciences.

Dr. Vogl is internationally recognized for his work using fluorescence microscopy and electron microscopy to explore the relationship between the three major cytoskeletal elements (actin filaments, microtubules, and intermediate filaments) in Sertoli cells and intercellular junctions in the seminiferous epithelium of the mammalian testis, and how the two systems together function to generate morphogenic events (translocation of developing sperm cells, sperm release) in the testis. Dr. Vogl’s work has led to a critical understanding of the role of the cytoskeleton in Sertoli cells during spermatogenesis and in male fertility.

Dr. Vogl has been cited more than 10,000 times, invited to participate in 55 lectures, and received numerous teaching awards, as well as the Basmajian Award. Consistently funded for more than 40 years, Dr. Vogl has been awarded more than $6 million to advance his work, from which he has published more than 130 peer-reviewed articles, 13 invited reviews and book chapters, and 150 abstracts.

In 2005, Dr. Vogl co-authored Gray’s Anatomy for Students with Richard L. Drake and Adam W.M. Mitchell. Now in its fourth edition, the text won first prize in Basic and Clinical Sciences at the 2009 British Medical Association’s Medial Book Competition and has been translated into 13 languages.

Dr. Vogl joined AAA in 1984 and was named a Fellow in 2009.


The rank of Fellow of the American Association for Anatomy (FAAA) honors distinguished members who have demonstrated excellence in science and in their overall contributions to the anatomical sciences. Since 2008, 100 members have been recognized as Fellows. This year, we add five – including three Canadians and the first Latina. Below, meet this year’s esteemed Class of Fellows.

A member since 1999, Rebecca Fisher, PhD, is Professor & Interim Co-Chair of Basic Medical Sciences and Director of the Gross Anatomy Laboratory at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. Dr. Fisher has served as a research mentor for undergraduate, graduate, medical, and postdoctoral students, encouraging diverse trainees to pursue careers in science. Dr. Fisher studies the functional anatomy of mammals and cephalopods. Her current work on octopus-inspired robotics is funded by a grant from the Office of Naval Research. A former Basmajian Award recipient and Board Member, Dr. Fisher is the first Latina to be named an AAA Fellow. She has served in a number of volunteer leadership roles, and currently serves on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. (photo by Chris Richards)

A member since 1999, Julian Guttman, PhD, is Professor of Cellular Microbiology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. He previously received the Young Investigator Award for Morphological Sciences and a Young Anatomist Publication Award, and served two terms on the Board of Directors. Dr. Guttman has been an Associate Editor of The Anatomical Record since 2015 and is on the Editorial Boards of Cytoskeleton and Tissue and Cell. Dr. Guttman’s research examines the molecular and morphological alterations that occur during bacterial infections of epithelial cells. He has published more than 60 articles and has served as Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-PI on research projects awarded in excess of $3 million.

Claudia Krebs, MD, PhD, is Professor of Teaching in the Department of Cellular & Physiological Sciences at The University of British Columbia. An AAA member since 2006, Dr. Krebs was elected to the Board in 2020, having previously served on the Educational Affairs Committee. Dr. Krebs continuously advances instruction of neuroscience while combatting ‘neurophobia’ and innovating teaching modalities. For The HIVE (Hackspace for Innovation and Visualization in Education), she assembled an interdisciplinary team to create digital media for anatomy education, partnering with the University’s Emerging Media Lab and industry partners like Microsoft. The initiative has developed 18 projects, with more in the pipeline. Additionally, she is the first author of Lippincott’s Illustrated Review of Neuroscience, now in its second edition.

At the University of Utah School of Medicine, David Morton, PhD, is Professor of Neurobiology and serves as Vice-Chair of Medical and Dental Education. He directs multiple courses and the gross anatomy lab, and teaches medical, dental, PA, PT, and OT students. He is an Academy of Health Science Educators Fellow and has received numerous teaching awards, including the UU Distinguished Teaching Award. Research interests include creation and incorporation of active learning activities and cadavers in medicine. Dr. Morton authored or co-authored multiple textbooks, including The Big Picture: Gross Anatomy. His video tutorials have received more than 8.5 million views on YouTube. Dr. Morton serves as visiting professor at three medical schools in Ghana. A 20-year member of AAA, he served on the Board of Directors 2014-2017.

A member since 2008, Bruce Wainman, PhD, fills many roles at McMaster University: Professor of Pathology and Molecular Medicine; Director of Anatomy, Education Program in Anatomy, and Surgical Skills Laboratory; and Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Surgery. Dr. Wainman has received numerous teaching awards and in 2016 was named a 3M National Teaching Fellow. He has mentored dozens of undergraduates, published 60 articles, and served as Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-PI on research projects awarded more than $5.2 million. He chaired the 2018 Regional Meeting (the most-attended to date), and is a member of the 2020 Nominating Committee. Research interests include interprofessional education, cognitive psychology, and use of augmented and virtual reality in education.

Basmajian Award

Haley O’Brien, PhD, is Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, where she uses digital rendering techniques to study the function, physiology, development, and evolution of craniocervical systems. As course director of the Neurology block, she reformatted the nervous system course, resulting in average student improvement of one full letter grade. Since joining the Curriculum Oversight Committee, she developed the first Course Director’s Handbook. Just five years post-doctorate, Dr. O’Brien has already mentored nine PhD and MS students in research and teaching of human gross anatomy, along with 15 neuroanatomy research medical students. She recently won Oklahoma State University's App Competition for development of a nervous system educational app with a team of medical student researchers. Dr. O’Brien has been recognized in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and AAA Annual BioArt Scientific Image Competition. She previously received two Education Outreach Grants and an Early-Career Publication Award for The Anatomical Record. The Basmajian Award acknowledges her many outstanding accomplishments early in her teaching career.

Early-Career Investigators

These awards recognize investigators in the early stages of their careers who have made important contributions to biomedical science through their research.

C.J. Herrick Award in Neuroanatomy

Andrea M. Gomez, PhD, of the University of California, Berkeley, is Assistant Professor of Neurobiology in the Department of Molecular & Cell Biology. Dr. Gomez’s lab opened in 2020, studying how genetic programs balance order and variability in the brain, using electrophysiology, functional imaging, and molecular biology to decode the instructive cues that organize neural networks to discover how synaptic dysfunction manifests in conditions like autism, intellectual disability, and neurodegenerative disorders. In support of this groundbreaking neurological research, she was awarded a 2020 Young Investigator Grant from The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. An advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM, Dr. Gomez is Laguna Pueblo and Chicana.

H.W. Mossman Award in Developmental Biology

Eric Van Otterloo, PhD, of The University of Iowa is Assistant Professor in the Iowa Institute of Oral Health Research in the College of Dentistry. He researches craniofacial and neural crest cell development, and related pathologies, using both animal genetics and modern molecular biology approaches. Dr. Van Otterloo is the first author on seven publications and collaborated on nine others. He was among the first to receive an AAA Postdoctoral Fellowship, exploring the critical role of MEMO1 in the development of the facial skeleton. A member since 2010, he is also a member of the Society for Craniofacial Genetics and Developmental Biology, an AAA affiliate. Dr. Van Otterloo’s research is currently supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

R.R. Bensley Award in Cell Biology

Pulin Li, PhD, is a Member of the Whitehead Institute and, in 2020, was named the Eugene Bell Career Development Professor of Tissue Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Li uses quantitative approaches to gain new insights into tissue biology. Demonstrating abilities across the disciplines of developmental biology, chemical biology, synthetic biology, and imaging technology, Dr. Li studies cell communication circuits that enable multicellular functions. Her lab examines how communication provides positional information to cells within a tissue, how feedback circuits coordinate cell communication in space and time, and how communication systems adapt during evolution. Her contributions include developing tools for discovering novel signaling pathways in tissue development and repair from the top down, and reconstituting and rewiring communication circuits from the bottom up to decipher their design principles. (photo: Whitehead Institute)

Fellows Grant Award Program (FGAP)

This Program supports research proposals submitted to major funding agencies that, although well reviewed, did not receive funding. FGAP aims to help researchers revise grant applications in anticipation of resubmission for approval. This year, FGAP will fund two projects:

Martine Dunnwald, PharmD, PhD, of The University of Iowa is Research Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology. Her project, Arhgap29 in orofacial development, examines the role of Rho GTPase activating protein 29 (Arhgap29) in orofacial clefts (OFCs). NIH R01 reviewers noted, “successful completion of the proposed studies would fill knowledge gaps in understanding the role of periderm [lining of the oral cavity] in pathogenesis of OFC, having significant impact in the field.” Despite “scientific rigor with inclusion of power analysis and sample size estimates,” reviewers requested more data to differentiate between wild type and mutant cells. FGAP funding will support hiring a trainee from an underrepresented minority to generate Arhgap29 cell lines with patient-derived mutations and preliminary mechanistic data using those cell lines.

Heather Szabo-Rogers, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine is Assistant Professor in Oral and Craniofacial Sciences. Dr. Szabo-Rogers’ project is Prickle1 protein-protein interactions are required for craniofacial chondrocyte signaling and polarity. The FGAP award will expand an NIH R03 application to a competitive R01. The new application will focus on the development of the nasal capsule cartilages, in addition to determining the role of Prickle1 in primary ciliopathies and Robinow Syndrome (RS). FGAP funding will support hiring a trainee to analyze existing cutting-edge images and generate data from RS-patient cells and a mouse model. Once collected, the new data generated with FGAP funding will strengthen Dr. Szabo-Rogers’ “strong preliminary data.”

Postdoctoral Fellowships

This award provides salary support to postdoctoral trainees working in any aspect of biology relevant to the anatomical sciences, including both basic science research and education research.

Gary J. Farkas, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. His research, Exercise and Nutrition to Reduce Obesity-Induced Inflammation and Improve Cardiometabolic Health in Spinal Cord Injury (ENRIICH-SCI), adds to more than two dozen publications on spinal cord injury and rehabilitation. This research aims to define the impact of functional electrical stimulation leg cycle exercise and diet, versus diet alone, on epicardial and abdominal visceral adipose tissue and proinflammatory adipokines in persons with chronic motor complete C4-T4 spinal cord injury. A member since 2010, Dr. Farkas serves on the Educational Affairs Committee, co-created the educational abstract scoring rubric, and initiated the LGBTQ+ in Anatomy community.

Soma Dash, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Trainor Lab at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research. Dr. Dash joined Stowers and AAA in 2018. The focus of her research is to determine a role for ribosome biogenesis, via RNA polymerase I subunits, Polr1a and Polr1c, and associated factor, Tcof1, in neural crest cells in enteric nervous system formation and gastrointestinal birth defects. Building upon previous studies published by the Trainor Lab related to cranial neural crest cells function and Treacher Collins syndrome, this new research has a high potential impact for therapeutic studies of Hirschsprung disease. “I am driven to identify the nature and molecular mechanism of regulatory factors like ribosome biogenesis and their relation to developmental defects,” said Dr. Dash.

Education Research Scholarship

Hei Ching Kristy Cheung is a graduate student at Western University in Ontario, Canada, where she is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Clinical Anatomy, as well as a Learning Design Certificate in Educational/Instructional Media Design. She has been a teaching assistant for half a dozen courses in gross and clinical anatomy, histology, and dentistry, and assisted with the development of e-learning modules for the medical program using articulate storyline software to revise and improve e-modules in gross anatomy and histology. Cheung’s education research, Meaningful Motion: Development of a functional anatomy online resource for allied health professionals, will evaluate such modules in the wake of the dramatic shift to virtual learning. Cheung joined AAA in 2020.