2022 O’Donnell Award in Medicine: Jason McLellan, Ph.D.
UT Austin Structural Biologist Jason McLellan, Ph.D. Recognized for Work on COVID-19 Spike Protein, Leading to Life-saving Vaccines
UT Austin structural biologist Jason McLellan, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2022 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST. He was chosen for his breakthrough research in mapping, modifying, and stabilizing coronavirus spike proteins, which paved the way for the creation of leading COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. McLellan, Welch Chair in Chemistry and Professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has been working on coronaviruses since 2013.
His team of structural biologists created the first three-dimensional structure of the coronavirus spike protein, a shape-shifting protein that allows the virus to enter and infect human cells. This blueprint of the protein enabled McLellan and his researchers to modify the spike and help stabilize it in a form that is optimal for use in vaccines.
His research laid the groundwork for vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. They all utilized his spike protein discovery in their efforts to create and distribute life-saving vaccines.
“By discovering ways to stabilize the spike protein, the part of the coronavirus capable of infecting cells, Dr. McLellan’s work uncovered a critical invention that helps to create a strong antibody response to the coronavirus,” said Nominator Nancy A Moran, Ph.D. (NAS), Warren J. and Viola Mae Raymer Chair Professor, Integrative Biology, The University of Texas at Austin. “Once the map is created, Dr. McLellan’s team can rationally determine changes to the virus molecule to create a vaccine not normally found in nature. The implications his research has for the future of vaccines is simply stunning, with applications for a wide range of deadly viruses threatening people around the globe.”
Dr. McLellan is one of four Texas-based researchers receiving the TAMEST 2022 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.
“Beyond just the state of Texas, Dr. McLellan’s research on stabilizing coronavirus spike proteins has saved countless lives around the world and we are honored to present him with the 2022 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine,” said David E. Daniel, Ph.D. (NAE), TAMEST Board President. “The pandemic has been hard on all of us, and we are honored to recognize Dr. McLellan’s dedication and foresight in creating virus antigens that continue to be utilized in vaccines. We can’t wait to see how he will utilize this research next.”
Dr. McLellan will be recognized at the 2022 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Monday, June 20, 2022, and will give a presentation on his research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2022 Annual Conference, Forward Texas – Imperatives for Health in San Antonio, Texas at the Westin Riverwalk Hotel.
All are encouraged to attend the ceremony and the TAMEST Conference.
The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually recognize rising 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.
Over $1 million has been awarded to more than 60 recipients in the categories of medicine, engineering, science and technology innovation since the inception of the O’Donnell Awards in 2006. Fifteen O’Donnell Awards Recipients have gone on to be elected to the National Academies, including four in the last two years.
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 325 members and 16 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 10 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 260 TAMEST members have been inducted into the National Academies or relocated to Texas.