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About the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards were established in 2006. They are named in honor of Edith and Peter O’Donnell, who were among Texas’ most devoted advocates for excellence in scientific advancement and STEM education. The awards 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.

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine honors Texas researchers at academic institutions in the medical field with a $25,000 honorarium, profile video and an invitation to present their research at the TAMEST Annual Conference.

Most Recent Medicine Recipient

2024 O'Donnell Award Medicine Recipient Benjamin Deneen

Benjamin Deneen, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, is the 2024 recipient of the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine. 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.

Learn More about Dr. Deneen and His Work >
Watch Dr. Deneen’s Award Acceptance >

Past Medicine Recipients

Jennifer Wargo, M.D. (NAM), MD Anderson Cancer Center | 2023
For her seminal contributions to the understanding of how the microbiome influences responses to immunotherapy and other forms of cancer treatment. Throughout her career, Dr. Wargo has advanced important research that contributed to the understanding of how best to combine targeted therapy with immunotherapy for cancer, which paved the way for several novel combination treatment approaches.
National Academy of Medicine: 2023
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Jason McLellan, Ph.D., The University of Texas at Austin | 2022
For his breakthrough research in mapping, modifying, and stabilizing coronavirus spike proteins, which paved the way for the creation of leading COVID-19 vaccines. 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.
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Watch Dr. McLellan’s Award Acceptance >

Benjamin Arenkiel, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine | 2021
For his breakthrough identification of the brain’s neural pathways that are connected to eating disorders, addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders. By understanding the makeup of neural circuits and how they talk to each other, Dr. Arenkiel’s team identified a convergent brain circuit that combines sensory perceptions and motivational state.
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Susan “Bess” Frost, Ph.D., UT Health San Antonio | 2020
For her work changing the way we look at Alzheimer’s disease. Instead of focusing on how to cure the disease, as is the focus of most Alzheimer’s research, Dr. Frost’s team looked at what causes the disease—a buildup of tau proteins inside of cells and amyloid plaques outside of it, which disrupts and eventually kills brain cell function.
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Watch Dr. Frost’s Award Acceptance >

Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2019
For 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.
National Academy of Medicine: 2020
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Watch Dr. DeBerardinis’ Award Acceptance >

Jordan Scott Orange, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine | 2018
For defining a new class of diseases, natural killer cell deficiencies. These diseases take place when the body’s built-in defenses against infections, pathogens and cancer are defective and prevent the body from being able to adequately fight back.
National Academy of Medicine: 2018
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Watch Dr. Orange’s Award Acceptance >

Meng Wang, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine | 2017
For developing technology that allows us to see things we haven’t seen before in the human brain. Through his laser speckle imaging technique, we can now see blood flowing in the brain in real time, allowing us to see where clots are forming.
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Watch Dr. Wang’s Award Acceptance >

Joshua T. Mendell, M.D., Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2016
For pioneering work on the functions of noncoding RNAs in cancer and tissue regeneration.
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Watch Dr. Mendell’s Award Acceptance >

Thomas F. Westbrook, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine | 2015
For developing transformative RNAi screening technologies culminating in new therapies for patients with breast cancer and other malignancies.
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Watch Dr. Westbrook’s Award Acceptance >

Richard K. Bruick, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2014
For studies on cellular responses to maintain oxygen and iron homeostasis that have helped lay the foundation for the development of small molecule therapeutics.
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Watch Dr. Bruick’s Award Acceptance >

Lora V. Hooper, Ph.D. (NAM, NAS), UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2013
For the discovery of immune mechanisms that promote host-bacterial symbiosis.
National Academy of Sciences: 2015
National Academy of Medicine: 2022
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Watch Dr. Hooper’s Award Acceptance >

Philipp E. Scherer, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2012
For his innovative approaches in the area of adipocyte-derived factors have created new avenues of investigation into the causes of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
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Margaret Goodell, Ph.D. (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine | 2011
For her lab’s insights from stem cell biology to bear on the immune response to infection and the loss of epigenetic regulation in aging.
National Academy of Medicine: 2019
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Wadih Arap, M.D., Ph.D. and Renata Pasqualini, Ph.D., The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center | 2010
For research leading to the first human studies showing that vascular endothelium in different tissues and cancers express unique marker molecules, accessible to circulating ligands.
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Brendan Lee, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine | 2009
For identifying the mutant gene in numerous skeletal dysplasias and demonstrating that deficiency of prolyl-3-hydroxylation activity as a cause of recessive osteogenesis imperfecta.
National Academy of Medicine: 2013
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Beth C. Levine, M.D. (NAS), UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2008
For work in the field of autophagy and identification of the first mammalian autophagy gene, beclin 1.
National Academy of Sciences: 2013
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David J. Mangelsdorf, Ph.D. (NAS), UT Southwestern Medical Center | 2007
For his work on orphan nuclear receptors leading to landmark discoveries of how regulatory pathways govern cholesterol, lipid and bile acid homeostasis.
National Academy of Sciences: 2008
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Gerard Karsenty, M.D., Ph.D., (NAM), Baylor College of Medicine | 2006
For his work demonstrating that in animals, beta-blockers can reverse the course of osteoporosis.
National Academy of Medicine: 2014
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