2021 O’Donnell Award in Science: Benjamin Tu, Ph.D.
UT Southwestern Biochemist Benjamin Tu, Ph.D., Recognized for Pioneering Metabolic Research
DALLAS – UT Southwestern Biochemist Benjamin Tu, Ph.D., is the recipient of the 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Science from TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas). He was chosen for his pioneering research on cellular roles of small molecule metabolites that may have relevance for cancer treatments and other diseases.
Dr. Tu’s approach to studying yeast to reveal conserved behavior in mammalian cells has led to the discovery of a unique pathway supporting the survival and growth of cancerous cells. By understanding how the pathway works in the mammalian cells, Dr. Tu was able to block the nutrient pathway feeding cancerous cell growth.
His revolutionary work challenges the long-held belief that metabolites are merely passive in their function. Instead, Dr. Tu’s research unveils that metabolites may drive key cellular processes and suggests the importance and influence of the metabolic state on cell regulation.
“Dr. Tu is like a detective – he is really excellent at figuring out the nuts and bolts of how cells work, how they function, and how they are regulated,” said Margaret Phillips, Ph.D., Professor and Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “The regulation of growth is important in cells because if growth is allowed to proceed in an unregulated fashion, it can lead to cancer or other diseases. What makes Dr. Tu so amazing is he has just made one important discovery after another in multiple different areas of metabolism throughout his career. He is a brilliant scientist.”
Dr. Tu, UT Southwestern Presidential Scholar and a W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research, is one of four Texas-based scientists receiving the TAMEST 2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards 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.
“We believe Dr. Tu’s research will lead to future therapeutic advancements for diseases,” said David E. Daniel, Ph.D. (NAE), 2021 TAMEST Board President. “As a pioneer in his field, we are honored to recognize him as the recipient of our 2021 O’Donnell Award in Science and are grateful for the discoveries he is making here in Texas that will impact the rest of the world.”
Dr. Tu was recognized at the 2021 O’Donnell Awards virtual ceremony on Wednesday, January 13 at 4 p.m. CT and gave a subsequent virtual talk on his groundbreaking research on March 3, 2021, at 11 a.m. CT. Video of the presentation as well as Dr. Tu’s slides are available below.
2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award Recipient Presentation: Science
Moderator: David W. Russell, Ph.D. (NAS)
2021 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Science Subcommittee Chair
UT Southwestern Medical Center
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 50 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 three in 2020.
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 300 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 11 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 225 TAMEST members have been inducted into the National Academies or relocated to Texas.