TAMEST Member Profile: TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Committee Chair Margaret “Peggy” A. Goodell, M.D. (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine

Margaret Goodell

TAMEST Member Margaret “Peggy” A. Goodell, M.D. (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine, made TAMEST history this year as the first former Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Recipient to chair the O’Donnell Awards selection committee. Dr. Goodell is a renowned scientist internationally recognized for her work in regenerative medicine and stem cell research.

She is currently a Professor and Chair of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Baylor College of Medicine and was awarded the 2011 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST for her work discovering a novel method to isolate adult stem cells. She says she accepted the position as chair of the O’Donnell Awards Committee to help recognize our state’s next generation of researchers and to use what she has learned to continue to make the awards as fair and transparent as possible.

Dr. Goodell came to Texas to join the Baylor team in 1997 and is also the founding director of the Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Center (STaR). Her laboratory at Baylor focuses on murine and human hematopoietic stem cells and genetic and epigenetic regulation and development. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine and became a TAMEST member in 2019.

TAMEST connected with Dr. Goodell to learn more about her innovative stem cell research and to discuss why TAMEST members should recognize the next generation of research leaders by submitting a nomination for the 2025 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards.

Please briefly describe how you found your path into molecular and cellular biology. 

As a kid, I was interested in science and always asked questions about the natural world. My mother was very into nature and would point out things and teach us actively, so I first got interested in science that way.

Even though I grew up mainly in the Northern States, Ohio and the Midwest, I had a grandmother based in El Paso, Texas. She was very keen on identifying the grandchildren’s interests and helping to cultivate them. When she saw that I was interested in the sciences, she would send me little books and things about biology. I was also interested in astronomy at the time, which helped to cultivate and encourage my interests. 

When I was in high school, I went to a program at a local university in Ohio where they exposed science-interested kids to a higher level of learning. They showed us things like the DNA in drosophila salivary glands, where the DNA is very visible. They taught us that this was where the information for life was stored, and I was captivated by that. It set me on the science path. I didn’t know what that would bring in terms of getting a higher education or a Ph.D., but I knew it was what I wanted to do.  

What about stem cell research do you find the most promising and fascinating?

The field has changed a lot over the past 10 years, but it still has a lot of potential for ameliorating various diseases. The long-term hope is that stem cells can be used to regenerate tissues or organs.

I work on blood stem cells, which reside in the bone marrow and constantly regenerate the blood. They’re probably the best-known stem cells. When you get a bone marrow transplant, it’s really the stem cells in the bone marrow that are being transplanted and regenerating the blood and that tissue. The regeneration process is remarkable, and principles from blood regeneration may be applicable to other tissues.

The potential that stem cells have is truly captivating.

What makes you most passionate about your work? 

There are two things at this stage of my career that make me passionate.

When you become a more senior investigator, you’re driven by helping the careers of the people around you. I have a lot of graduate students in the lab, and I have postdoctoral fellows. I’ve hired other faculty into my department at Baylor as well. What’s exciting is to see all of these people grow and flourish and become independent investigators. Seeing them achieve and grow over time is an excellent source of satisfaction.

I am also still passionate and excited about my own scientific endeavors. We’re working on how normal blood stem cells work and what happens when you get blood cancers such as leukemia. Usually, some regulatory process of the normal stem cells goes awry and allows them to grow too much and not make their proper blood cells. That leads to a malignancy. So, my lab is always discovering something new.

Science is fun because there’s always something fresh that you’re thinking about. You’re constantly changing what you’re working on, and the field is growing and full of ideas. So, I’m passionate about both the people and the process.  

You serve as Committee Chair for the TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards. As a former recipient, what made you take on this role after serving as a subcommittee member?  

I was an O’Donnell Award winner many years ago, and it is a huge award in our state. Texas has many really good and very talented scientists, and these awards are very competitive and hard to get. I was honored when I received the award, and it was probably the first major award that I’d ever gotten. So, I feel grateful and loyal to the whole program because of that.

When I was asked to serve on the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine Committee, I was happy to take part and help identify this next generation of spectacular scientists in Texas. First, it’s rewarding to see who gets nominated, but it’s also satisfying to help ensure the process is as fair and transparent as possible.

When applications or nominations are put in for people, a lot of effort goes into them. The nominators are hopeful. The nominees may be optimistic. And it’s a very competitive process. So, the committees want to help ensure it’s as fair and transparent as possible.

That’s why I was also willing to take on the role of Committee Chair. I have learned how it works over the last three years, and it’s an opportunity to continue to broaden my impact on the whole process for all the nominees in the state. I’ve seen firsthand how impactful the awards can be, and it is an honor to help carry the tradition to the next generation.

Talk about the role of mentoring in your career. Why is it essential for you to give back and help the next generation of researchers?  

To become a successful scientist, it takes many years of practice. It’s not just like learning how to do an experiment but also how to communicate those results to other scientists and the granting bodies. That is necessary to receive money and funding to support your research.

Then, once you have your own laboratory, you must learn how to recruit people to it. Every laboratory is like running a little mom-and-pop store where we sell products and hope to get funding to support all the people in our laboratory. All of this takes many different skills that take many years to hone.

When you’ve figured out how to do the process successfully, you realize how important it is to help other people learn what you have along the way. Mentoring is incredibly important and I do it on multiple levels. I do it with the trainees in my lab, the students and the postdocs. Each comes into my lab for three to six years, and I’m training them actively to do science. Some people ask me how much I teach. Well, I only give a few lectures the way most people think of it, standing up in a room full of 150 students.

However, I’m teaching my students every day when I’m interacting with them about how to design an experiment, make sure that the right controls are in, or write a manuscript. I’m also mentoring at the faculty level. We’ve hired almost eight faculty in my department in the last three years – during the pandemic, too. I’ve worked very closely with all these faculty to help ensure that their lab is starting in the right direction and that they are getting the funding they need.

Those of us in science are passionate about the endeavor that we think we can impact the broader world and that’s what we love to do. We want to see it continue as an endeavor. However, that really means helping to train the next generation.

Why should TAMEST members nominate someone for an Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award? 

It’s a huge honor to receive an Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award. We have many great scientists in Texas, and a lot of groundbreaking science is being done here, even in teams, and we would like to highlight that.

The awards ceremony is very moving, having just attended it a month ago. People bring their families. There are always a lot of people to thank because people have been doing it for a while, and you see their challenging journeys.

There are a lot of people who get nominated that don’t receive the awards. However, the process is an excellent one to learn from, even if you don’t receive the award in the end. It makes people articulate for themselves and the people around them what they have done and what impact their work could have on society that is unique.

It’s much easier to explain scientific breakthroughs to people who know your field but describing it to a broader group is much more challenging. Being forced to articulate science in more general terms is a valuable process. When I’ve helped others do that, it impacts their research more widely than just applying for this or being nominated for one particular award. The deserving people should win these awards; however, it’s a great process to go through for younger scientists regardless.

You were elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2019 for your essential contributions to stem cell biology, particularly genetic and epigenetic regulation of self-renewal and differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells. What does being a member of NAM and TAMEST mean to you?  

It’s a huge honor. As I described in the beginning, I became interested in science just by looking at the natural world in my backyard. I went into science, not assuming or expecting anything. Then you start your lab and you hope that you can run a lab successfully and keep your head above water with a few people who follow your ideas. So, the National Academies are not really something you aspire to. Because of that, when you get these recognitions, it is a tremendous honor to receive them. It makes you realize how far you’ve come.

The National Academy of Medicine is no doubt a huge national recognition. It’s tough to get into and an enormous honor if you do. TAMEST is part of that as well. I am very honored to be a part of both.

What do you enjoy doing outside of your research? 

I have three daughters aged 19 to 23. Some are in college and so they’re back with us fairly often. One of them lives in Austin. They keep me busy, even though they’re partly out of the house. We get together with them for family vacations or just the holidays. That takes up a lot of my non-science time.

We like to travel as well, either with them or without them. We’ve been to all sorts of places. We went to Cuba last year for Christmas and it was fascinating. Though my favorite place to visit right now is Japan because of the culture, the beauty and the people. It’s really special.


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