2023 O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences: James J. Collins III, Ph.D.
UT Southwestern Medical Center Associate Professor James J. Collins III, Ph.D., Recognized for Identifying New Treatment Paths for Parasitic Worms Devastating the Developing World
James J. Collins III, Ph.D., Associate Professor, UT Southwestern Medical Center, is the recipient of the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences from TAMEST. He was chosen for widening the understanding of schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms that infect hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including children.
Schistosomes are parasitic worms that live in certain types of freshwater snails and enter an individual when skin encounters contaminated freshwater through wading, swimming, bathing or drinking. The disease impacts almost 240 million annually and is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The disease becomes progressively worse over time as the female parasitic worms lay millions of eggs inside the host, which cause debilitating inflammatory responses and scarring as more and more eggs get trapped in the liver, intestines or even the brain. After years of infection, the parasite can also damage the liver, intestines, lungs and bladder as well as cause anemia, malnutrition and learning difficulties in children.
Dr. Collins was the first to be able to set up the culture conditions to monitor the reproductive cycle of the worms without having to pass it through a host. In doing so, he has transformed society’s understanding of schistosomes by discovering and isolating the pheromone or signal used when male worms contact a female. Experts believe understanding and isolating the exchange provides a great new direction for the field and may cause relief to the millions it impacts each year in developing nations.
“The only current treatment for schistosomes targets the worms themselves, not the eggs that can survive 30 years in the body, creating a debilitating cycle in patients even with treatment,” said Nominator David J. Mangelsdorf, Ph.D. (NAS), Alfred G. Gilman Distinguished Chair of Pharmacology, UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Dr. Collins is a bold visionary who has not only identified new therapeutic avenues against these parasites by focusing instead on the eggs and reproduction but he has uncovered new paradigms in cell signaling and developmental biology as well. He and his team have laid the groundwork toward something that will eventually break the cycle of egg laying and provide a better outlook for the disease.”
Dr. Collins is one of five Texas-based researchers receiving the TAMEST 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards. Each are chosen for their individual contributions addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.
Dr. Collins will be recognized at the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, and will give a presentation on his research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2023 Annual Conference: Forward Texas – Accelerating Change in Houston, Texas, at the The InterContinental Houston – Medical Center.
All are encouraged to attend the ceremony and the TAMEST Conference.
The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually recognize rising star Texas researchers who are addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.
Thanks to a $1.15 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation in 2022, the O’Donnell Awards have expanded to include an additional science award. The awards now recognize recipients in the categories of Medicine, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Technology Innovation. (Previously, the TAMEST O’Donnell Awards rotated its science award between physical and biological sciences every year.)
The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards are made possible by the O’Donnell Awards Endowment Fund, established in 2005 through the generous support of several individuals and organizations. View a full list of supporters here.
TAMEST was co-founded in 2004 by the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown, M.D., and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. With more than 330 members and 18 member institutions, TAMEST is composed of the Texas-based members of the three National Academies (National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences), the Royal Society and the state’s 9 Nobel Laureates. We bring together the state’s brightest minds in medicine, engineering, science and technology to foster collaboration, and to advance research, innovation and business in Texas.
TAMEST’s unique interdisciplinary model has become an effective recruitment tool for top research and development centers across Texas. Since our founding, more than 275 TAMEST members have been inducted into the National Academies or relocated to Texas.