2019 O’Donnell Award in Medicine: Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D.

Nov 2018

Jordan Orange

Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern’s Ralph DeBerardinis Recognized for Changing Our Understanding of Cancer

Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) is the recipient of the 2019 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas).

Dr. DeBerardinis is a pioneer in studying how altered metabolism leads to diseases in humans. His work in cancer metabolism has changed our understanding of how tumors reprogram metabolic pathways to maximize energy production and growth. By analyzing tumor metabolism directly in patients, he has identified unexpected fuels and pathways not observed in conventional studies performed in the laboratory. These include unexpected roles for mitochondria and lactic acid in fueling aggressive tumors. Discoveries from Dr. DeBerardinis have opened new avenues of study for therapies and imaging techniques.

“Dr. DeBerardinis is a leader in the area of cancer metabolism,” says Sean Morrison, Ph.D., Director and Professor at CRI.“His work is changing the way we think about the metabolism of cancer cells and yielding new strategies for treating disease.”

Dr. DeBerardinis is also the Chief of the Division of Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism at UT Southwestern and Director of the Genetic and Metabolic Disease Programat CRI. Learn more about Dr. DeBerardinis and his discoveries.

“The TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards highlight the groundbreaking research taking place in Texas,” says TAMEST President Gordon England. “The discoveries by these researchers are advancing science and improving lives. TAMEST is proud to celebrate Dr. DeBerardinis for his achievements.”

Interview opportunities with Dr. DeBerardinis are available. Please contact:

Katie Regan, M.A.

Scientific Communications Manager

Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center



Research Highlights

Dr. DeBerardinis is a leader in the field of cancer metabolism, where his work has changed the field in three ways. First, his laboratory demonstrated the importance of mitochondria in producing biosynthetic precursors to support cancer cell growth, correcting the long-standing misconception that mitochondrial metabolism is counterproductive for malignant cells. The impact of this work is underscored by the fact that drugs designed to inhibit growth-promoting mitochondrial activities are now in clinical trials for cancer. Second, the lab developed approaches to understand how oncogenic mutations cause metabolic vulnerabilities in cancer cells. Dr. DeBerardinis showed that cancer cells have diverse metabolic preferences, that specific oncogenotypes regulate cell-autonomous metabolic pathway choices, and that some preferences can be targeted to selectively kill cancer cells in experimental models. These techniques, particularly stable isotope tracing and metabolic flux analysis, are now widely used by researchers studying cancer and genetic metabolic diseases. Third, Dr. DeBerardinis pioneered a multidisciplinary approachto examine metabolic flux in cancers in humans. His team combines expertise in metabolism with clinical oncology, surgery, medical imaging and genomics to reveal metabolic networks that are active in cancers growing in patients. This work proved that human lung tumors have higher levels of mitochondrial metabolism than benign lung tissue and revealed unexpectedly complex fuel choices and fluxes in vivo. It also provided a clinically-relevant foundation to support future research in cancer and other metabolic diseases in patients.

2019 TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Recipients:

  • Medicine: Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D., Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern
  • Engineering: Hal S. Alper, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin
  • Science: Julie Pfeiffer, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center
  • Technology Innovation: Terrence F. Alger II, Ph.D., Southwest Research Institute

About the O’Donnell Awards:

Over $1 million has been awarded to more than 50 recipients in the categories of medicine, engineering, science and technology innovation since the inception of the O’Donnell awards in 2006. The awards are named in honor of Edith and Peter O’Donnell, who are among Texas’ staunchest advocates for excellence in scientific advancement and STEM education. Read more about the 2019 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards recipients.

The recipients will be honored during the O’Donnell Awards dinner and reception on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, at the TAMEST Annual Conference: Neuroscience and Brain Health. The conference takes place January 14–16, 2019, at the Horseshoe Bay Resort outside of Austin, Texas.Media are encouraged to attend the ceremony and the conference.


TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas) is the state’s premier scientific organization, bringing together Texas’ best and brightest scientists and researchers. TAMEST membership includes all Texas-based members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the state’s Nobel Laureates.


TAMEST News and Updates

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Share This