TAMEST Recognizes Texas' Rising Star Researchers with 2017 Edith and Peter O'Donnell Awards

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Awards showcase the best and brightest in Texas research

The TAMEST O’Donnell Awards showcase the best and brightest in Texas research.

The work of these researchers meets the highest standards of science, and the paths to their discoveries show immense ingenuity and imagination.

Discovering new clues to natural treatments that could allow our bodies to age better. Inventing new ways to see with lasers what’s happening in our brains. And searching for keys to our immune systems by studying parasite-resistant fish. These are the discoveries by Texas’ rising stars in research being honored with the 2017 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards by The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST).

This year’s recipients of the O’Donnell Awards showcase the best and brightest in Texas research, whose creative work could have a lasting impact on our lives.

The recipients are:

Medicine—Meng Wang, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. As humans live longer, Wang’s work looks at how to improve our “health span” in addition to our lifespan. Through her unique studies of worms, she has discovered new genetic and molecular insights into how humans age. She’s also exploring natural compounds to develop therapies that could result in healthier aging. “Dr. Wang is a bright, wonderful, passionate scientist, with a curiosity about problems that are really important for general health,” says Huda Zoghbi, M.D., professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. “Through her innovative genetic and technological approaches, she’s really provided beautiful insight about some pathways that regulate health and longevity. She’s discovered a totally independent way to affect life span.”

Engineering—Andrew Dunn, Ph.D., professor and director of the center for emerging imaging technologies at The University of Texas at Austin, has developed 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. This allows neurosurgeons to easily identify areas suffering from reduced blood flow and prevent strokes. “He has developed this magnificent laboratory and exceptional research. He’s been able to use advanced optical techniques to really see the very early stages of clots in the brain. This was not possible before he started working on it,” says Nicholas Peppas, Sc.D., Cockrell Family Regents Chair in Engineering No. 6, Family Chair for Department Leadership No. 1 and Professor of Chemical Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

Science—Daniel Bolnick, Ph.D., professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin, has deepened our understanding of how evolution and ecology intersect. His work often takes him out in the natural world, including yearly trips to Canada to study parasite resistance in fish. By understanding how some fish are resistant to parasites, we could achieve a better understanding of our own immune systems, which could lead to better treatments for everything from allergies to Crohn’s Disease. “It’s this synthesis of ecology and evolution that’s enabled him to open up a whole new area. This environment he’s created for himself is really rich and ripe for the possibilities of discovery,” says Daniel Jaffe, Ph.D., vice president for research at The University of Texas at Austin. “He’s really broken new ground across a very broad field that has a lot of impact.”

“Each year, the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards recognize the next generation of Texas researchers making our world a better place,” says TAMEST President David Russell, vice provost & dean of basic research at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “The work of these researchers meets the highest standards of science, and the paths to their discoveries show immense ingenuity and imagination. TAMEST is proud to recognize David Bolnick, Andrew Dunn and Meng Wang for their achievements.”

Over $1 million has been awarded to 47 recipients in the categories of medicine, engineering, science and technology innovation since the inception of the O'Donnell awards. The awards are named in honor of Edith and Peter O’Donnell, who are among Texas’ staunchest advocates for excellence in scientific advancement and STEM education.

The recipients will be honored during the O’Donnell Awards Dinner in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, at the TAMEST Annual Conference, Building a Sustainable Future for Texas. The conference will examine big picture, long-term issues facing Texas and ideas and solutions that will help guide Texas through the next century, with a focus on key issues like energy, health, water and transportation. Building a Sustainable Future for Texas takes place Tuesday, January 10–12, 2017, at the Westin Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Media are encouraged to attend.

Interviews with O’Donnell Award recipients are available.

About TAMEST:
The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) was founded in 2004 to provide broader recognition of the state’s top achievers in medicine, engineering and science, and to further position Texas as a national research leader. TAMEST also aims to foster the next generation of scientists and to increase the awareness and communication among the state’s best and brightest about research priorities for the future.

TAMEST’s membership represents Texas’ best researchers from both industry and academia. TAMEST is composed of more than 280 Texas-based members of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the state’s nine Nobel Laureates.

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