2024 O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences: Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D.
UT Southwestern Medical Center Biochemist Vincent Tagliabracci, Recognized for Potentially Life-Saving Research in Understanding How Enzymes Work
Forward-thinking biochemist Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., Associate Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences from TAMEST. He was chosen for his potentially life-saving research in understanding how enzymes work.
Dr. Tagliabracci and his team at UT Southwestern Medical Center have shined a new light on an array of physiological processes that rely on enzymes called protein kinases (PKs) and their biological cousins called “pseudokinases.” His research revealed how the virus that causes COVID-19 builds a structure called an RNA cap that’s critical for viral replication. The hope is that this discovery could lead to new strategies to attack COVID-19, which has sickened nearly 700 million and killed almost 7 million worldwide thus far.
Scientists have studied protein kinases for decades because they play critical roles in many physiological and pathological processes. Dr. Tagliabracci and his research team unabashedly study what they term “weird enzymes.” Their work on pseudokinases has disrupted the textbook view of PKs and discovered new catalytic activities performed by these enzymes.
“With a keen eye for new biology, Dr. Tagliabracci has discovered a distant family of proteins that are related to the kinase family, but are distinct, identifying them by a variety of structural characteristics,” said nominator Eric N. Olson, Ph.D. (NAM, NAS), Professor and Chair, UT Southwestern Medical Center. “This family of pseudo kinases is a biological goldmine. Dr. Tagliabracci then dug deeper to try and figure out their functions. And one at a time, he has unearthed some amazingly interesting and important biology.”
Dr. Tagliabracci is one of five Texas-based researchers receiving the TAMEST 2024 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. Tagliabracci was recognized at the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, and gave a presentation on his research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Austin, Texas, at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center.
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 335 members and 22 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 eight 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.