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Jason McLellan Awarded O'Donnell Award in Medicine


McLellan c

This month, Dr. Jason McLellan received the 2022 Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award in Medicine from TAMEST (The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas). His research laid the groundwork for vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. They all utilized his spike protein discovery in their efforts to create and distribute life-saving vaccines. The TAMEST 2022 Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award is awarded to individuals whose contributions address the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness. 

Last year, McLellan was selected also as recipient of the Shirley Bird Perry Longhorn Citizenship Award. This award was created by Sam Perry in 2017, with the purpose of recognizing one or more university students, members of the faculty, staff, administration, or alumni for an individual or collective act that brings honor to The University and that positively impacts civic life. The recipient of this award is to be a trusted, engaged citizen who demonstrates exceptional judgement, compassion for others, boundless energy and a strong work ethic as well as notable pride and love for The University of Texas. 

He also was named the 2021 Texas Inventor of the Year for his role in biomedical research linked to the development of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. The award is given annually by the State Bar of Texas' Intellectual Property Law Section in recognition of an individual whose invention "has scientifically impacted the Texas economy."

The vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, and Novavax, all use the patented technology McLellan and the tram developed in 2017, when he was a faculty member in Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine. The invention also has applications for treatments such as antibody therapies. 

To date, hundreds of millions of people across the globe have been immunized against COVID-19 with vaccines that use the team's spike protein technology. 

Ilya Finkelstein Awarded Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research

Finkelstein Ilya headshotThe Norman Hackerman Award honors outstanding early-career chemical scientists in Texas. It is designed to encourage scientists who are embarking on careers dedicated to increasing our fundamental understanding of chemistry.

Finkelstein joined the Department of Molecular Biosciences in 2012. He is well regarded for his innovative methods to understand how cells repair their DNA and maintain integrity of genetic information. Most recently, Finkelstein shifted his team's focus and developed a critical reagent for SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development. He is also on a team of UT Austin faculty who have been working with clinicians in Houston to understand how COVID-19 is mutating by reviewing blood plasma of 5,000 patients. 

"Dr. Finkelstein is a distinguished and impressive biophysicist", said Peter B. Dervan, chair of the Welch Foundation's scientific advisory board. His creativity in the lab continues to move the field with cutting-edge research and discoveries related to DNA repair and CRISPR gene editing. Dr. Finkelstein's recent COVID-19 research also shines light on the importance of ongoing and proactive basic chemical research."

Read more and view a video about Dr. Finkelstein...

2021 Sloan Research Fellowship Winner awarded to Urbain Weyemi

WeyemiThe Sloan Research Fellowship honors outstanding early-career scientists in eight fields. Dr. Weyemi is among the 128 scholars from across the country selected by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to receive this award. 

Since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955, 96 faculty from UT Austin have received a fellowship.

Weyemi joined the Department of Molecular Biosciences as a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar in Cancer Biology in 2019. He researches at the intersection of cancer biology, neurodegeneration and epigenetics, focusing on how damage to the human DNA leads to cancer and other diseases. He is also a member of the LiveStrong Cancer Institutes at Dell Medical School. Learn more about Weyemi and his work in our recent Q&A

"A Sloan Research Fellow is a rising star, plain and simple", said Adam F. Falk, president of the Alfred P. Solan Foundation. "To receive a Fellowship is to be told by the scientific community that your achievements as a young scholar are already driving the research frontier."

Read more... 

 

Congratulations MBS recipients of the CNS Excellence Awards

2020 Teaching Excellence Award:

Congratulations Dr. David Taylor, Assistant Professor
David Taylor

The College of Natural Sciences is home to a large number of committed, innovative educators that help our students learn a demanding curriculum. The College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award celebrates the members of our faculty that excel in the classroom.

 

2020 Staff Excellence Award:

Congratulations Yvette Cañedo, Senior Grants and Contracts Specialist

Yvette Cañedo


The College of Natural Sciences Staff Excellence award recognizes members of our community who go above and beyond the day-to-day responsibilities of their job, including outstanding dedication, competence, resourcefulness and customer service. 

Three MBS Faculty Receive Named Professorships, Chair

The Department of Molecular Biosciences is celebrating three professors who recently received honors in the form of named professorships and chairs. To celebrate their appointments MBS has scheduled zoom seminars by each of the new endowment holders. Harshey, Huibregtse and Payne will speak during the MBS Fall 2020 seminar series (listed below).

Photo of Rasika HarsheyRasika Harshey is now the Lorene Morrow Kelley Professor of Microbiology

Seminar date: December 9th, 2020 at 4:00 p.m.

 

 

Photo of Jon Huibregtse


Jon Huibregtse
is now the Benjamin Clayton Centennial Professor of Biochemistry

Seminar date: November 18th, 2020 at 4:00 p.m.

 

Photo of Shelley Payne



Shelley Payne
is now the Marie Betzner Morrow Centennial Chair

Seminar date: October 28, 2020 at 4:00 p.m.

 

 

 

Congratulations!  

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Brandon Okeke Wins Student Legacy Award

Brandon Okeke headshotBrandon Okeke, a biochemistry senior, is one of two accomplished undergraduates who will be honored with the Student Legacy Award at our annual Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights. He is also the 2020 recipient of the Texas Exes’ Edward S. Guleke Student Excellence Award. Read on to learn more about his experience here on campus, the life wisdom he gained in Beijing, China, and how his hard-working mother inspired him to pursue a rewarding career in medicine.

Programs and activities: Afrikan American Affairs, Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males (formerly AAMRI), Texas Blazers, Black Health Professions Organization, Summer Health Professions Education Program in New Orleans, La.

Finding his center…Early into his freshman year, Okeke found his community within the Multicultural Engagement Center (MEC), a space on campus that educates and empowers students to become leaders and future gamechangers. “The staff are great at finding us opportunities. Whether it’s scholarships, internships or study abroad, they provide so much in one space. While working with students and advisors and staff, especially Malik Crowder, I learned so much about myself and about how other people think.”

Getting organized and mobilized…Among his many duties, he planned and organized a number of events—from New Black Student Weekend to professional development workshops to Title IX info sessions. “It’s easy to get lost on a campus with 50,000 students, so we’re reaching out to students early on to let them know that the MEC is here for them. It has really helped me feel more comfortable with my surroundings and helped me realize that I belong here.”

Beijing bound…In spring 2017, Okeke traveled to Beijing, China with his fellow study abroad students participating in the DDCE’s signature Entrepreneurship in China and the U.S. program. Along the way, he gained new perspectives about himself and others. “I’ll never forget the moment when I climbed to the top of the stairsteps to the Forbidden City that overlooked the entire city of Beijing. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m here—and there’s really nothing I can’t do.’ I made this reality for myself.”

A scientist at heart… After his trip abroad, Okeke followed his career path with a renewed sense of confidence—a path that aligns with his lifelong passion for science. “Science has had my heart right from the jump. When I was young, I used to make my own chemistry sets and conduct experiments to see how things worked. During my freshman year, I read my biology book just for fun.”

Rising to greatness…Now as Okeke closes in on his senior year, he’s excited to study medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. His interest in the medical field stems from his admiration of his mother, who overcame a great deal of adversity to become a senior-level nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston, Texas. “She was one of the best nurses in the hospital. She worked really hard and I’ve always looked up to her. I know that if I work just as hard, I could be great as well.”

 

Cross-posted from the Division of Diversity & Community Engagement.

UT Bioscientist Receives Antiviral Research Award

Jason McLellan, molecular bioscience associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, was the 2020 recipient of the William Prusoff Memorial Award from the International Society for Antiviral Research, which honors a young scientist who has shown excellence in antiviral research and promise for future contributions to the field. 

McLellan’s research focuses on the structure of certain proteins as infections progress, which informs the development of medicine used to treat disease. One of his research interests focuses on human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a virus causing severe lower respiratory tract infections, particularly in young children and the elderly. A certain part of RSV, called the F protein, changes shape during an infection. If the immune system encounters the F protein in this altered shape, the antibodies it produces are less effective than when the F protein is in its pre-infection shape. Using a structure-based approach, McLellan engineered the F protein to take away its shapeshifting ability and in turn allow the body to produce more effective antibodies in response. 

McLellan previously received the Etter Early Career award from the American Crystallographic Association in 2017 and the 2019 Viruses Young Investigator in Virology Prize for his work on RSV. 

McLellan graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in chemistry, and earned his Ph.D. from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine. He joined the biochemistry department at Dartmouth Medical School, and in 2018 moved his lab to the University of Texas at Austin, where he became an associate professor in the department of molecular biosciences. 

Georgiou Honored with Chemical Engineering Literature Prize

George Georgiou, a professor in the Departments of Molecular Biosciences, Chemical Engineering, and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, received the William H. Walker Award for Excellence in Contributions to Chemical Engineering Literature at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting this month.

The award is given to a member who has made an outstanding contribution to chemical engineering literature which is of interest and importance to the chemical engineering profession. 

Georgiou’s research focuses on the development and discovery of protein therapeutics, which are proteins engineered in a laboratory for pharmaceutical use to supplement essential proteins for a variety of purposes like insulin for diabetes and erythropoietin for anemia. These proteins can be used in vivo (that is, on living organisms) rather than tissue samples for testing, which allows scientists to see the overall effects of an experiment on a living subject.

Georgiou graduated with his doctorate in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1987. After coming to UT Austin as an assistant professor of chemical engineering in 1986, Georgiou became a professor in chemical and biomedical engineering, and in molecular biosciences, and served on various chairs for the University. Georgio currently serves as a Dula D. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering.

Among his many honors, he was elected to the National Academy of Inventors (2015), American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2015) and the National Academy of Medicine (2011). He was also named UT Austin’s Inventor of the Year in 2014.

Mutant Roundworms Might Shed Light on Causes of Ribosome Disorders

mutant c elegans700 2In a paper published in the journal Developmental Cell last month, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin gained insights into how tissues diversify during embryonic development. These initial findings may provide clues about the causes of ribosomopathies, human disorders involving ribosomes, the molecular machines within cells that produce proteins.

Prominent Plant Biologist Keiko Torii Joins Faculty

Prominent Plant Biologist Keiko Torii Joins Faculty

Keiko Torii

A plant biologist whose work has implications for the medical and agricultural fields, as well as improving plant resiliency in the face of climate change, is making the move to Texas this year. Professor Keiko Torii, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and plant biologist, will join the faculty of the Molecular Biosciences Department at The University of Texas at Austin in September 2019.

Torii studies functional tissue patterning, stem cell maintenance and differentiation and how plant cells determine function.

Before joining the faculty of the University of Washington, Torii studied biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. During her post-doctoral work, she discovered for the first time that plants have receptors that perceive signals from neighboring cells, similar in structure to insulin receptors in humans. Torii recalls that she was truly fascinated about her work--as it suggested that the plant cells, like our human cells, can talk to each other using a similar type of receptor. Indeed, she initially wanted to study basic biomedical science in college, but she made a dramatic change in her career decision to pursue plant molecular biology instead.

“When I heard about (plant genetic engineering) in a lecture, I thought that because the field is just blooming, perhaps there is room for opportunity here,” she said. “I felt like there was a huge prairie or open land in front of me.”

Torii is a founding member of the Institute of Transformative BioMolecules at Nagoya University, part of Japan’s World Premier International Research Center Initiative, pursuing cross-disciplinary research of synthetic chemistry and plant/animal biology. She was a winner of the Saruhashi Prize in 2015, a prize recognizing an outstanding and influential woman scientist in Japan each year. Torii is also an elected fellow of American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) and American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB).

Much of Torii’s recent work has centered on plant stomata, the mouth-like structure on the surfaces of land plants that allow for gas and moisture to be exchanged with the atmosphere. How the stomata operate, and how different plant cells communicate with each other about which ones will become stomata has been an important question in her work.

“Stomata are only 10 to 20 microns in size, but the total water content of Earth’s atmosphere is estimated to cycle through plant stomata every six months,” Torii said. “Everything plants do is so critical to our survival and plant science is becoming more important in every aspect.”

Torii said she was attracted to the University of Texas because of the potential for collaboration and integrative approaches across fields of medicine, molecular biology and plant biology.

“Texas offers a unique environment for me to pursue this very basic developmental biology while getting more into plant resilience research, especially in light of changing global climate,” she said.

microscopy image of mutant plant epidermis

Image above: In order for stomata to function, they have to be spread out and evenly distributed within a leaf surface. By tweeting the activity of a ‘master regulatory’ gene that drive differentiation of stomata, one can convert all cells on a leaf surface to become stomata. Shown is a microscopy image of such mutant epidermis. Pink color highlights the outlines of individual cells, most of them differentiating into tiny months (stomata made of a pair of guard cells surrounding a pore). Green color is from engineered Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) that marks the differentiation of stomatal progenitor cells.” Images taken by Dr. Kylee Peterson (former Torii lab member)

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