Exceptional students deserve an exceptional faculty. As part of its commitment to quality, MTSU provides students the opportunity to interact with and be guided by the nation’s leading educators and practitioners. Here are some recent examples of faculty members at MTSU achieving great things.

Iris Gao


Iris Gao, a researcher at MTSU, made national news in 2017 when a team she leads released findings regarding breakthrough research aimed at helping treat metastatic breast cancer.

In concert with MTSU’s Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, the team has isolated and identified a new, patented compound, DMDD, from the root of the tropical star fruit tree, that is helping treat this form of cancer, Gao said.

This new hope for a low-toxicity treatment for metastatic breast cancer has been reported in the prestigious research journals Scientific Reports and Oncotarget.

The star fruit tree is native to and widely distributed in Southeast Asia. The root of the tree has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat debilitating headaches for thousands of years. The consecutive discoveries of this plant-derived anti-cancer agent have resulted from a collaboration between Gao and Dr. Renbin Huang at Guangxi Medical University in China. Huang’s lab has previously studied DMDD as a robust anti-diabetic agent. Inspired by recent studies linking diabetes and breast cancer and fascinated by the fact one of the world’s top anti-diabetic drugs (metformin) can effectively treat breast cancer, Gao decided to investigate whether DMDD also could be used to fight breast cancer.

“The research has updated the knowledge of DMDD and provided new insights into its potential as a cancer drug,” Gao said.

MTSU graduate students are aiding in the effort. A grant provided by Tennessee-based Greenway Herbal Products has assisted the center’s overall research efforts since 2016.

Carter F. Smith


For the third time in his career, an MTSU professor won one of his profession’s highest honors. Carter F. Smith, a lecturer in the Department of Criminal Justice, received the Frederick Milton Thrasher Award from the Journal of Gang Research in 2016 at the International Gang Specialist Training Conference in Chicago. The Thrasher Award was established in 1992 to honor and recognize superior scholarship, leadership, accomplishments, and service contributions in dealing with public safety issues like that posed by gangs.

Smith is retired from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigations Command, where he established the Army’s first gang and extremist investigations team. He also provided and directed the security of several U.S. Army bases, supervised multinational fraud and theft investigations, and conducted various criminal and cybercrime investigations in Germany, South Korea, Panama, and the United States. Smith’s areas of expertise include street gangs, military-trained gang members, gangs in the military, gangs in colleges and universities, organized crime, international and domestic terrorism, and employment in the criminal justice professions.

Smith has appeared on the History Channel’s Gangland series and authored Gangs and the Military: Gangsters, Bikers, and Terrorists with Military Training (2017). The book is based on personal experiences, historical documents, government reports, and current events.

“Congress has mandated an annual report on street gang, outlaw biker, and extremist terrorist activity in the military every year since 2008,” Smith said. “Only the Army conducts an annual assessment, and they appear to do little to analyze the problem . . . and potential solutions.”