2024 O’Donnell Award in Medicine: Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D.

Baylor College of Medicine Neuroscientist Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D., Recognized for Groundbreaking Research Set to Ultimately Impact Brain Tumor Patients and Give Potential Insights into a Wide Range of Developmental Diseases

World-leading neuroscientist Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D., Professor and Dr. Russell J. and Marian K. Blattner Chair in Neurosurgery and Director of the Center for Cancer Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST. He was chosen for his groundbreaking research that has opened an entirely new field of study set to ultimately impact brain tumor patients and give potential insights into a wide range of developmental diseases.

For many years, neurological research has focused on one particular cell in the brain: the neuron. Dr. Deneen’s research flipped the script. He and his team have focused instead on the most abundant brain cell: the astrocyte. Dr. Deneen’s research has revealed that astrocytes influence brain circuits and animal behavior by communicating with neurons. These lines of communication play an essential role in everyday behaviors and if they get disrupted, diseases and neurological disorders follow.

Astrocytes are implicated in every brain disorder and disease. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of what they specifically do will provide valuable insight into developmental neurobiology, the mechanisms by which brain diseases develop and progress, and the mechanisms necessary for treating them. Dr. Deneen’s findings have changed the way scientists view brain circuits, laying the groundwork for new therapeutic opportunities to combat neurological disorders.

“Knowledge of these neural circuits could potentially lead to new treatments of various brain disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even brain cancer,” said co-nominator Malcolm K. Brenner, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Founding Director, Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Baylor College of Medicine. “Dr. Deneen is very passionate about his work and excited about his trainees and what they’re achieving. You can’t run a laboratory by yourself, you’ve got to have good people. And Dr. Deneen and his team are truly transforming our understanding of how brain cells communicate.”

Dr. Deneen 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. Deneen was recognized at the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, February 6, 2024, and gave a presentation on his research on Wednesday afternoon, February 7, at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in Austin, Texas, at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center.

About the O’Donnell Awards:

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.

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