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2023 Award Recipients

David Bixler Distinguished Scientist in Craniofacial Research



Justin Cotney

Associate Professor

University of Connecticut

Health Center 


Sally Moody


George Washington University 

Dr. Justin Cotney, Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences and the Institute for Systems Genomics at the University of Connecticut Health Center is the 2023 recipient of the SCGDB Marylou Buyse Distinguished Scientist Award. This award, named after the first female president of the SCGDB, was created to recognize SCGDB members in the middle stage of their careers who have made important contributions to the craniofacial sciences. Justin received his B.S. degree in Biology from Birmingham-Southern College and Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Emory University. His dissertation research with Dr. Gerald Shadel focused on the role of TFB1M and TBF2M, two mitochondrial transcription factors involved in transcription, translation and retrograde nuclear signaling. In 2009, he joined the lab of Dr. James Noonan as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Genetics at the Yale University School of Medicine. There he employed functional genomic approaches to understand mechanisms of gene regulation during limb and brain development. His technical acumen contributed to improving ChIP-Seq and RNA-Seq protocols to require very small amounts of embryonic tissue, and using these techniques he identified tens of thousands of enhancers present in various mammalian species. His interest in applying genomic technologies to understand regulatory architecture of mammalian development and disease has been a hallmark of his independent research program. In 2015, Justin launched his research program at the University of Connecticut and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2021. His laboratory has revealed new insights into the role and evolution of enhancers in controlling craniofacial, heart, limb, and brain development. He has made strong contributions to understating genetic variants associated with normal facial variation in humans and risk for congenital craniofacial anomalies. This work has been published in a number of high-impact journals and led to robust funding from the NIH. Justin has also made an impact on the field of craniofacial biology through his sharing of genomic datasets to create an epigenomic and transcriptomic atlas of human craniofacial development through Facebase. In addition to his research, Justin serves UConn academic community as director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Graduate Program, a mentor to dozens of trainees, and an educator across the campus. Beyond his own institution, he serves on grant review panels for the NIH and other national/international grant programs. Justin and his lab members have contributed to multiple annual SCGDB meetings. Justin will receive a commemorative plaque and deliver a plenary lecture on his research on functional genomics of craniofacial development at the 46th Annual SCGDB Meeting at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Dr. Sally Moody, Professor and Chair of Anatomy and Cell Biology at The George Washington University, is the recipient of the 2023 SCGDB David Bixler Distinguished Scientist Award. This award, named after the first President of the SCGDB, is the Society’s highest scientific honor and was created to recognize long-term distinguished leadership and meritorious contributions to the craniofacial sciences by a senior level SCGDB member. Sally earned a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from Goucher College and a master’s degree in Anatomy from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. She went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Neurosciences at the University of Florida, where she used the chick model system to study development of the trigeminal motor nucleus. During her postdoctoral fellowship at University of Utah, Dr. Moody investigated mechanisms that pattern axon outgrowth using clonal analysis in Xenopus. In 1983, Sally launched her independent research program as an Assistant Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. It was during this time that she published her most highly cited works regarding blastomere fate mapping of the 16- and 32-cell stage Xenopus embryos, a contribution that has been, and continues to be, essential to the Xenopus community. She was promoted to Associate Professor in 1989 and, in 1992, joined the faculty in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at The George Washington University, where she was promoted to Professor and has served as Chair since 2016. Over her long and productive independent research career, she has advanced our understanding of the mechanisms that regulate development of the nervous system. Her work, which has defined gene regulatory networks in neural plate development and specification of placode-derived sensory structures, has led to the discovery of new genes involved in neural tube and craniofacial differences. Throughout her career, Sally has been awarded research grants from the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and March of Dimes. She has published more than 100 scientific articles, served on several scientific advisory boards, and was the editor-in-chief of genesis, The Journal of Genetics and Development and co-editor of the Evolutionary Cell Biology book series. Sally has also shown herself to be an outstanding and dedicated mentor to her many trainees. Sally’s dedication SCGDB has been instrumental in the society’s success. Sally served as the SCGDB’s Vice President (2016-2018), President (2018-2020), and immediate past President (2020-2022). She had the difficult job of guiding the SCGDB through challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and, in 2020, she persevered with the 43rd annual meetings using a virtual platform for the first time. The virtual meetings in 2020 and 2021 were the highest-attended annual meetings on record and the number of the SCGDB members more than doubled to expand the reach of the society. Sally will receive a commemorative plaque and deliver a plenary lecture on her research at the 46th Annual SCGDB Meeting at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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