By Angela Martín-Barcelona, TAMEST
At the 2017 TAMEST Annual Conference, a panel of six leaders from higher education across the state gathered to discuss the strong forces of change affecting higher education in Texas and across the United States. Texas’ higher education system is in a unique position thanks to rapid population growth, changing demographics and a shifting focus in various industries.
The panel examined the sustainability of higher education from the perspective of their institutions, the state of Texas and the United States. Topics included: shifting financial models; technology’s impact on learning and the classroom; the increased importance of education regardless of economic status; and the political pressures to differentiate priorities and financing.
- Robert L. Duncan, Chancellor, Texas Tech University System
- Gregory L. Fenves, Ph.D., President, The University of Texas at Austin
- David W. Leebron, J.D., President, Rice University
- David E. Daniel, Ph.D., Deputy Chancellor, The University of Texas System
- Diana S. Natalicio, Ph.D., President, The University of Texas at El Paso
- John Sharp, Chancellor, The Texas A&M University System
Some highlights from the conversation:
The Importance of Education
“Our biggest challenge with sustainability [in higher education] is in fact not just sustaining what we have, but getting a lot better than what we have today,” said David Daniel, Ph.D., of The University of Texas System. Daniel said both the people of Texas and legislators need to see the value of education. “There’s an opportunity here, and an important one for sustainability and that is: Higher Ed needs to get more involved in K-12 education, and doing everything we can to help them be successful,” Daniel said.
“Higher education is more important than it’s ever been,” said Gregory L. Fenves, Ph.D., of The University of Texas at Austin. “You look at our state, you look at our nation, you look at what’s happening globally, and it’s even more important that we get more of our students going to high-quality universities, getting those post-high school credentials in different forms.”
Texas’ Changing Demographic Landscape
“The disparities between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in higher education has grown over the past 40 years,” said Diana Natalacio, Ph.D., of The University of Texas at El Paso. “We have this huge responsibility given the changes in the demographics of Texas population. Sustainability of this state is going to require that that growing disparity be eliminated. We’ve got to educate more low-income and mostly-minority Hispanic students, because that’s where the population growth is.”
John Sharp of Texas A&M System emphasized that the future of Texas will depend on educating its people. “We have taken for granted our economics. We’ve built these huge empires on cattle, cotton, oil and gas and didn’t have so much to worry about it,” he said. But the next source of power in Texas is going to come from “human resources, not natural resources,” Sharp said, noting that the state has more 18- to 21-year olds than everywhere in the country with the exception of Provo, Utah. “Texas, particularly South Texas and the border and places like that, are where the future of Texas is going to be decided,” Sharp said, emphasizing how important education of those populations will be vital if the state is going to advance.
Sustaining Quality Research
The panel also emphasized the importance of quality research programs at Texas universities. Texas has three top-tier research universities—Texas A&M University, Rice University and The University of Texas at Austin—that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), and many others in the state have reached the highest level of Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education for research. But whether the state will continue to grow as a research destination depends in part on continued state and cultural support.
“The fundamental question for Texas and the country is: Are we going to be willing to invest in these institutions? And it’s not just about money, it’s also … about culture and belief,” said David Leebron, J.D., of Rice University. “My biggest fear is we’re losing some of our belief in the importance of research and the importance of science, and particularly fundamental inquiry in science.”
“Texas has made it a priority to create research,” said Robert Duncan of Texas Tech University System, noting the growth of research-based universities and the commitment the legislature has made to research funding. He continued on to say, "I think the thing we need to do to be able to make sure that the research successes that we've had... [is] that we sustain that funding...because... that is what makes it happen at least for those of us in the emerging research institutions." The panel as a whole emphasized that research and sustainable funding need to continue to be a priority.
“We’re in a period where there is tremendous technological innovation,” said Larry Faulkner, Ph.D., of University of Texas at Austin, who moderated the discussion. “It’s offering opportunities for new ways to teach and new ways for students to learn that may or may not involve the intervention of a real, physical teacher.”
“We ought to be looking into technologies because our students really, really value the opportunity to engage with us,” said Leebron of Rice University. “And I think what we’re going to see in the classroom is if you’re not using that classroom to truly engage with people, you’re using that classroom in a way that people will disengage with and they simply won’t come to class.”
To view the complete panel discussion, visit our YouTube page: https://goo.gl/f4pPgn.
By Jeannie Kever, University of Houston Marketing and Communications
Energy has been the driving force of human civilization since the discovery of fire, but the invention of electric generators and electric motors in the 1870s marked a clear turning point. Almost 150 years later, most of us consume energy via electricity — the juice that powers everything from air conditioners to cell phones and laptop computers. Increasingly, even our cars may be powered not directly by gasoline or diesel, but by electricity.
But keeping up with growing demand, especially in the face of calls for a cleaner environment, has sparked one of the next great energy challenges. Texas scientists are working to develop materials that can store energy, allowing it to be deployed on demand, not only at the time of generation.
The modern movement took a leap forward in 1987, when physicist Paul C.W. Chu and members of his team at the University of Houston discovered a compound that acted as a superconductor at a temperature above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen, which promised to dramatically lower the cost of operating superconducting devices. Dr. Chu is now Founding Director and Chief Scientist at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston.
High temperature superconducting materials, along with batteries and other new materials, hold enormous promise for electrical energy storage, boosting the ability to use renewable and clean energy without compromising the quality and stability of the grid.
The late Nobel Laureate chemist Richard Smalley, from Rice University, ranked energy first on his Top Ten list of problems facing humanity over the next half-century. The rest of the list — water, food, environment, poverty, terrorism and war, disease, education, democracy and population — should be more easily resolved once questions surrounding energy, including reliable, low-cost energy storage, are answered, he said.
Texas researchers in both academia and industry, along with our booming wind energy sector, have pushed the state to the front of the field, boosted by federal funding from the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and other agencies. Greentech Media last year listed Texas as one of three states leading the effort to develop energy storage technologies, along with California and New York.
Solar power is slowly gaining market share here, and giant wind turbines stretch to the horizon in West Texas and the Panhandle. A $7 billion transmission project to connect wind farms with the state’s major cities only increased the need for a way to bank intermittent wind power and solar, relieving stress on the grid.
Right now, about 70 percent of global electric generation comes from fossil fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — while the International Energy Agency estimates 22 percent of world electricity generation is from renewable energy.
Experts point to electrical energy storage — converting excess electric energy to a different form, storing it and converting it back to electric energy when it is needed — as the necessary bridge to a lower-carbon future, reducing the greenhouse gases, acid rain and particulate pollution associated with fossil fuels. The expanding demands of mobile electronic devices and the rapidly developing electric vehicle market add to the urgency.
Scientists at the state’s top research universities, including the University of Houston, Rice, the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Dallas are on the job. Their projects range from improving the storage capacity of lithium ion batteries to creating flexible batteries, superconductors and other new materials, some of which incorporate advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology.
People have known for decades that excess energy can be stored in the form of magnetic energy in a superconducting coil, technology Chu says has been successfully tested using low temperature superconducting materials, which require expensive liquid helium to cool.
His discovery of high temperature superconductivity brought superconducting magnetic energy storage (SMES) a step closer to market.
Other key researchers at the Texas Center for Superconductivity include engineers Venkat Selvamanickam, who is focused on improving the storage capacity of magnets and leading efforts to create an Advanced Superconductor Manufacturing Institute, and Yan Yao, who works with new types of batteries.
Research in the private sector is surging, too. Utility transmission company Oncor last year released a report showing that 5,000 megawatts of energy storage could be added to the Texas grid to boost its efficiency. Smaller projects continue around the state, including one spearheaded by Duke Energy in Far West Texas. The Notrees Wind Energy Storage Project, partially funded by the Department of Energy, launched in 2012, using lead acid batteries to store electricity produced by the company’s wind farm. Duke earlier this year announced a plan to replace the lead acid batteries with lithium ion batteries in 2016.
Better batteries and other energy storage materials could ease some of the irritations of modern life, allowing cell phones and other personal electronic devices to last longer between charging. But more importantly, the materials also will help determine what sources of energy are used in the future, with huge implications for the climate.
Dr. Chu will be presenting on energy storage at the TAMEST Texas Research Summit on Friday, November 13, 2015. The Texas Research Summit will highlight the outstanding research and innovation taking place in Texas, while giving researchers in Texas a better understanding of federal agency priorities. The objective is to make Texas research institutions more competitive in seeking federal funding for research, which would lead to increased job growth and stronger research programs at major academic and industrial institutions. You can learn more about the summit here.
The world is moving online at a breakneck speed. In the last eight years, data traffic on AT&T’s mobile networks alone increased a whopping 100,000%. Across the globe, we’re seeing faster internet and a greater proliferation of mobile devices, combined with more and more digital connectivity in health, transportation and retail.
But as more and more of our everyday lives take place online, new threats and dangers have arisen that challenge the ease and convenience of living in a digital world. Credit card hacks, identity theft and spyware wreak havoc on individual consumers, while businesses and governments have to deal with all-out assaults on their servers and networks. Last year, there were nearly 43 million security incidents at businesses, the equivalent of 117,000 attacks a day. These attacks come with a cost, sometimes in the tens of millions of dollars. Prevention also comes at a price: global spending on information security is expected to reach $76.9 billion this year.
The National Science Foundation is helping find answers to these questions by funding research into new and improved encryption techniques that will help make sure the data you send and receive stays secure. (In the video above, the Foundation explains how more scientific research could lead to better encryption.)
The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) will host the first Texas Research Summit Friday, November 13, 2015, where prominent Texas researchers will highlight the outstanding research and innovation taking place in Texas in cybersecurity and other areas. Top federal agency officials like Dr. France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation, will describe their research priorities in these fields. (You can read more about the summit here.)
Dr. Krish Prabhu, Chief Technology Officer of AT&T Labs, will give a presentation on cybersecurity and some of the research and innovation taking place at their company and in the sector as a whole. AT&T has focused on helping businesses navigate the threats of the digital world, like building tools to help withstand Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks. AT&T has seen these types of attacks on their networks grow over sixty percent in the last two years.
How to secure the digital world is one of the great challenges of our time, and one that must be met with dynamic, intelligent responses that will require the cooperation of federal agencies, academic researchers and industry.
A Conversation with Dr. Joseph Beaman of UT Austin
When you think of “manufacturing,” perhaps images of old American steel mills long since closed might come to mind. Or maybe you think of frenetic assembly lines across the sea, where the next generation of smartphones is being built.
But it’s possible that soon you’ll think of manufacturing much differently: smarter, more precise, much smaller, and once again in North America. Technologies like 3D printing will allow for the design and production of ever more niche products, and jumpstart a manufacturing renaissance in the country. And Texas could take the lead in getting us there.
To learn how Texas can make that happen, we recently spoke with Dr. Joseph Beaman, Professor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Beaman was the first academic researcher in the field of Solid Freeform Fabrication — also known as 3D Printing, or ‘Additive Manufacturing’ — and his lab developed the process known as Selective Laser Sintering, which uses a high-powered laser to integrate materials into a three-dimensional form. The funding for these initial projects came from the state, which was looking to broaden its economic reach during an oil bust in the eighties.
Now, in the midst of a similar downturn in the oil and gas industry and a surge in advanced manufacturing technology, Beaman argues its time for the state to once again commit to the manufacturing sector. And he has an idea for how they could do it.
What Additive Manufacturing Is, and Where It Could Take Us
“Manufacturing is all about high volumes, right? High-volume, low-value manufacturing. If I’m going to manufacture something in the traditional way, I have to tool, and that’s really expensive. And the price drops as I hit more and more volume — that’s what economies of scale are all about.
But what additive manufacturing enables is essentially small-lot manufacturing — you can start to do high-value, low-volume manufacturing.
People are now using advanced manufacturing to make parts that go on parts, real products — they’re not just prototypes anymore. But the machine isn’t quite there to do it yet commercially, the cow’s not out of the barn yet. And I think that’s where the real monetary value is going to end up being, so I think it’s important for Texas to be in the mix on that.
With additive manufacturing, it allows me to build one thing just as cheaply as I could ten thousand of them. If you just want one of something I can give it to you, it’s just a software file. You don’t have to tool.
Now you’re not going to make razor blades that way, but things that are high-value, low-volume are where it makes sense. Things like personalized prosthetics. Let’s say there’s a below-the-knee amputee. You’d scan their residual limb and then 3D print a custom prosthetic. It’s no one else’s, it’s personalized. If you’re a runner, we’ll make you a custom shoe. And that kind of advanced manufacturing is a lot closer than you think.
It also completely disrupts the supply chain. In the future, you might not have an additive manufacturing machine at your house, but it might be somewhere in your city or region. And you’d send it a digital file and have it printed, then you’d go down there to pick it up. Or a drone will fly it to your house!”
On the Importance of State Funding for Advanced Manufacturing
“Other states are putting money into these advanced manufacturing research projects, matching money. And it’s making it hard for Texas to compete. You know, the Ohios, the Michigans — they’re all investing in it.
Manufacturing isn’t something that’s dying out, it’s something that we need. It turns out that something like 60–70 percent of all patents come from manufacturing. So the message there really is, even though it’s maybe only 30 percent of the economy, it’s where you do a lot of the invention.
There’s a lot that happens when you come up with a product, but there’s a lot more that happens when you actually make that product. 60–70 percent of all R&D spending is done in manufacturing. Per capita, it’s the biggest area for patents.
For instance, look at producing medical devices. In making medical devices, the big question is, ‘Could I make this faster?’ Well, additive manufacturing and 3D printing is one of the options, but there’s other things. We’d like to set up a system where you bring doctors and engineers together to come up with medical device solutions, and then actually get them built.
To actually do the initial testing, get to trial faster, and get the product out faster, and basically build a new medical device industry. I think there’s a real opportunity for that right now in Texas. And I think advanced manufacturing enables that, along with good medicine. We have some of the best medical schools here in Texas.”
The Model for Funding Advanced Manufacturing Research
“The model for Texas is the Fraunhofer model [a German research society]. The federal government, as well as the local regions, put up money, and then companies can get R&D done for something like 70 cents on the dollar. So they’re not getting it for nothing, but they’re getting it at a discount.
And it’s great for universities, too, because they’re co-located with universities, so students get to come over and work on these projects, and faculty get to come over as well.
So you have this really applied research, which creates a lot of engineering value. And it’s one of the reasons why the German economy is typically an export economy, and we’re not right now. I think the state of Texas itself could emulate that. I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is doing that right now.
It would be a great time for us to set up this model in Texas and really become the state for advanced manufacturing. We don’t want to do what everyone else does. We want to create the products of the future. Ten years from now, we want to be where manufacturing should be twenty years from now.”
Dr. Beaman will be presenting on advanced manufacturing at the TAMEST Texas Research Summit on Friday, November 13, 2015. The Texas Research Summit will highlight the outstanding research and innovation taking place in Texas, while giving researchers in Texas a better understanding of federal agency priorities. The objective is to make Texas research institutions more competitive in seeking federal funding for research, which would lead to increased job growth and stronger research programs at major academic and industrial institutions.
By Christi Fish, Executive Director of University Communications, UTSA
UTSA faculty member, educator and researcher Rena Bizios, a pioneer in biomedical engineering, has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors for medical sciences, health care and public health professionals. Bizios’ election to the National Academies moves UTSA one step closer to Tier One, a designation that includes, among other things, the number of faculty at a university with memberships in the National Academies.
Bizios is the first tenure-track UTSA faculty member to be elected to the National Academies and the third overall.
The research interests of Bizios, a Peter T. Flawn Professor in the UTSA Department of Biomedical Engineering, include cellular and tissue engineering, tissue regeneration, biomaterials (including nanostructured biomaterials) and biocompatibility. She is recognized for making seminal contributions to the understanding of cell-material interactions, protein/cell interactions with nanostructured biomaterials, and for identifying the effects of pressure and electric current on cell functions during new tissue formation. Her research has applications in the tissue engineering and tissue regeneration fields.
“When I started in this field, biomedical engineering was not well-known or well-understood,” said Bizios. “I didn’t know if it would be successful or not. I took a risk.”
While Bizios takes great pride in the achievements of the undergraduate and graduate students she has mentored, her work extends well beyond her own classroom and laboratory. She has taught fundamental undergraduate and graduate engineering courses and developed new biomedical engineering courses. Moreover, she has co-authored a landmark undergraduate textbook, An Introduction to Tissue-Biomaterial Interactions. The textbook is a standard in the biomaterials field and has been adopted for upper-class undergraduate and beginning graduate courses by several biomedical engineering programs in the United States and abroad.
“Rena Bizios is a wonderful example of the tremendous faculty that top-tier universities are known for,” said UTSA President Ricardo Romo. “Through her teaching, research and mentoring at UTSA, Dr. Bizios has made significant contributions that have shaped, and will continue to shape, biomedical engineering. I am so pleased to see her work recognized by her peers in the National Academies.”
Bizios’ career includes long-standing service to engineering at the departmental, university, regional, national and international levels. She has served on numerous committees and held elected officer positions in several societies including the Biomedical Engineering Society, Society for Biomaterials, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. She frequently speaks at universities around the world, and at national and international conferences.
Professor Bizios’ peers also have recognized her research accomplishments and contributions to education. She has received several awards including the Rensselaer Alumni Association Teaching Award (1997); Clemson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Literature, from the Society for Biomaterials (1998); Distinguished Scientist Award, from the Houston Society for Engineering in Medicine and Biology (2009); 2010 Women’s Initiatives Mentorship Excellence Award, from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; Founders Award, from the Society for Biomaterials (2014); Theo C. Pilkington Outstanding Educator Award, from the Biomedical Engineering Division of the American Society for Engineering Education (2014); and Amber Award, from the UTSA Ambassadors (2014). She was also elected a charter member of the UTSA Academy of Distinguished Researchers earlier this year.
Moreover, Bizios is a fellow of five professional societies: the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, International Union of the Societies for Biomaterials Sciences and Engineering, Society of Biomedical Engineering, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Our newly elected members represent the brightest, most influential, and passionate people in health, science, and medicine in our nation and internationally,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor Dzau. “They are at the top of their fields and are committed to service. The expertise they bring to the organization will help us respond to today’s most pressing health-related challenges and inform the future of health, science, and medicine.”
UTSA College of Engineering Dean JoAnn Browning added, “We are proud to have such an outstanding professional like Dr. Rena Bizios teaching and conducting research here at UTSA. Not only has Dr. Bizios made many significant contributions to her field, she is also an outstanding mentor to our students in the biomedical engineering program and is so deserving of this honor.”
“I am delighted and I feel humbled by this honored inclusion by my peers,” said Bizios. “I share it with all of my students, past and present, and with my colleagues who have collaborated with me.”
The National Academy of Medicine is an independent organization of eminent professionals from the fields of health and medicine as well as the natural, social and behavioral sciences. Founded in the 1970, the NAM administers fellowships, scholarships and awards in addition to hosting workshops, expert meetings, symposia and other initiatives to respond to current and emerging needs in health and medicine.
This year, the National Academy of Medicine will induct 70 new members and 10 international members, raising its total active membership to 1,826 and its number of international members to 137.
Learn more about the Rena Bizios.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Biomedical Engineering.
By Peter Hotez, M.D. Ph.D.
Last December I was selected as one of four U.S. Science Envoys for the year 2015, along with Drs. Jane Lubchenco, University Distinguished Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University and former administrator of NOAA (2009-2013); Arun Majumdar, Jay Precourt Professor, senior fellow, Precourt Institute for Energy, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University, and former founding director of ARPA-E (2009-2012) and Acting Under Secretary of Energy (2011-2012); and Geraldine Richmond, Presidential Chair and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oregon and founder of the COACh for women scientists and engineers .
The U.S. Science Envoy Program was first proposed in April 2009 by Sen. Dick Lugar who praised American supremacy in the sciences and technology, correctly observing how our country is widely admired for its scientific achievements even by nations unsupportive of our foreign policies . Subsequently in June President Obama made a historic speech in Cairo, Egypt in order “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world" , later followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement in November 2009 in Marrakesh, Morocco that she will send prominent scientists to travel to Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries for “scientific and technical collaboration” . The first three U.S. Science Envoys selected were Drs. Elias Zerhouni (born in Algeria), former NIH Director; Bruce Alberts, former director of the National Academy of Sciences; and Ahmed Zewail (born in Egypt), a Caltech professor and Nobel Laureate . The envoys are chosen jointly by the U.S. State Department and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Over the last six years a total of 13 U.S. Science Envoys have been named, including four in this current class. Each of us has a unique expertise and role, including two envoys in 2015 focused on climate change. My interest and passion is in the area of vaccine development for neglected diseases. I head the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine where we are developing a portfolio of six vaccines, including new vaccines for hookworm infection and schistosomiasis now in clinical trials. Our vaccines are developed in the non-profit sector and typically are of less interest to major pharmaceutical companies because they primarily target diseases of the extreme poor living in low- and middle-income countries. A component of our external outreach activities include capacity building in so-called “innovative developing countries” where there is a sound biotechnology infrastructure, despite severe poverty and endemic neglected infections .
In a March 2015 letter in SCIENCE magazine, I wrote how the Middle East and North African (MENA) region is now highly vulnerable to neglected and emerging infectious diseases arising out of the conflicts in ISIS-occupied Syria, Iraq, and Libya, as well as Yemen . Some of these include MERS coronavirus infection, leishmaniasis, and schistosomiasis. I’ve pointed out previously how Ebola emerged in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone out of a post-conflict setting associated with breakdowns in health systems and infrastructure, urbanization, human migrations, and deforestation, with similar conditions now in play in conflict-ridden MENA zones . Simultaneously the MENA region has a dearth of regional vaccine development capabilities and is highly vulnerable to diseases that the major pharmaceutical companies will not likely target for vaccines, such as those I highlighted above. Accordingly, we are proposing to develop vaccines jointly between research institutions in selected MENA countries and our vaccine institute in Houston. Since the beginning of the year, I have visited Morocco and Saudi Arabia, countries that were chosen on the basis of their potential to develop vaccine infrastructure together with alignment of U.S. strategic interests.
It’s an exciting opportunity for me to work with the State Department, White House OSTP, and the U.S. Embassies in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. I have been deeply impressed with the expertise and depth of knowledge of my colleagues in the U.S. Government, as well as some amazing scientists in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. I am hopeful there could be some important deliverables in terms of developing new and life-saving vaccines, together with joint capacity building for science and technology in the MENA region. Simultaneously I feel privileged to be asked to provide service to our country!
Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., is a member of TAMEST. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine (officially National Academy of Medicine on July 1, 2015) and is the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, University Professor of Biology at Baylor University, and Baker Institute Fellow in Disease and Poverty at Rice University. The views herein are those of Professor Hotez and not necessarily those of the U.S. State Department or White House.
The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.
The fourth post in this series was written by Dr. Richard Bruick, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Medicine. Dr. Bruick’s studies on cellular responses to maintain oxygen and iron homeostasis have helped lay the foundation for the development of small molecule therapeutics to replace erythropoietin as a treatment for anemia, to treat renal cell carcinoma, and to address iron overload disorders.
Dr. Richard Bruick, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Medicine
By Richard Bruick, Ph.D.
Perhaps the earliest and most frequent advice I’ve received over the years from the chair of our Biochemistry Department, Dr. Steve McKnight, is “make a discovery!” This should not be confused with “publish lots of papers!” as is often intended when well-meaning colleagues coach young faculty preoccupied with launching their careers. Rather, it’s a call to constantly tackle new and challenging problems that may pay off with life-changing advances. There is a great deal of risk associated with this approach. Progress may be slow and hard to measure with no guarantee of success—not exactly ideal selling points when trying to get grant funding.
Over a decade ago, my collaborator Kevin Gardner and I embarked on one such project. I had begun my independent career investigating mechanisms that our cells use to sense changes in oxygen availability. This work was highlighted by the identification of key regulatory enzymes that have subsequently been studied by countless groups, and are now the targets of candidate drugs to treat anemia. However, we were intrigued by a potential vulnerability we spied within a different player in the pathway that we hoped could be useful in the context of cancer treatments. This particular target was largely ignored by others in our field, in part because it did not fit into a known class of “druggable” protein targets.
Combining the expertise of UT Southwestern biochemists, structural biologists, and chemists, we sought to develop inhibitors that could exploit our hypothesized liability. Though we gained many insights along the way, the challenges were substantial and progress was often arduous. It wasn’t until 2011—after almost ten years of work—that we achieved the key milestone we aimed for at the outset: a chemical inhibitor that targeted this “undruggable” factor. This technology was licensed to a biotechnology start-up company here in Texas, Peloton Therapeutics, which successfully advanced these early lead molecules into clinical drug candidates for the treatment of kidney cancer. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the start of a clinical trial, and the first patients are receiving the candidate drug as I write this today. It is an exciting time for all involved and we can’t wait to see whether this off-the-wall idea in which we’ve invested so much time will finally pay off with improved treatments for cancer patients.
I was very gratified to receive the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Medicine from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST). This award recognizes the efforts of dozens of talented individuals over the years as well as Dr. McKnight’s vision and the willingness of UT Southwestern to encourage bold research programs. I firmly believe the Department of Biochemistry at UT Southwestern was central to my success. Our work required significant investments in infrastructure, including shared facilities for small molecule screening, medicinal chemistry, biophysical analysis, and pharmacodynamics characterization. We relied on the excellent labs neighboring ours that span many scientific disciplines and the collegial environment fostered at our institution. As our work matures, new avenues of research continue to open up, allowing us to engage even more investigators to address ongoing opportunities in both clinical and basic research.
The O’Donnell Award validates the patience and trade-offs required to pursue high-risk, long-term objectives and acknowledges the outstanding mentorship I’ve received as well as the terrific colleagues, collaborators and trainees I’ve worked with over the years. The O’Donnell Award provides the freedom to think as creatively as possible, and helps researchers like me all across this state to boldly recruit the next generation of students and fellows to explore new opportunities. I’m thrilled to be in the company of so many outstanding Texas scientists who have been selected for O’Donnell Awards since the program began. Texas is fortunate to have an organization like TAMEST fostering innovation in our state through this unique, life-changing awards program, which will continue to drive innovation in Texas for years to come.
Dr. Richard Bruick is associate professor of biochemistry and a Michael L. Rosenberg Scholar in Medical Research at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
The TAMEST Membership is honored to have new University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven kick off its new member event at the 12th annual conference on Wednesday evening, January 21, 2015, at Houston’s Omni Hotel. The new member event was added to the agenda at TAMEST’s 2012 Annual Conference in Houston and quickly became a popular tradition for acknowledging the previous year’s members who were either elected to the National Academies or relocated to Texas.
We look forward to Chancellor McRaven’s welcoming remarks at the Wednesday evening event. He will be introduced by TAMEST’s Co-founder and Honorary Chair Kay Bailey Hutchison. As noted in Chancellor McRaven’s bio, his last assignment with the Navy was Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, during which time he led a force of 69,000 men and women with an annual budget of more than $10 billion. We understand from his comments to the media there are many parallels between his previous position and his new one as head of The University of Texas System. He also is a recognized national authority on U.S. foreign policy and has advised the president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, secretary of homeland security and other U.S. leaders on defense issues. He has worked extensively with leaders on Capitol Hill, and as a three- and four-star admiral, he was routinely involved in national policy decisions during both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Of particular interest to TAMEST Members are Chancellor McRaven’s remarks regarding the value of research recently made to the UT System’s community commenting, “I understand and value the work in a way that others may not, because a lot of the research that starts in Texas has saved lives on the battlefield. I have seen it firsthand.” He is committed to collaborative efforts between academia and industry stating, “I am also excited about the prospects of partnering with the other great academic and research institutions and with industry in the state and beyond. I will quickly reach out to leaders in these areas to find ways to improve collaboration and cooperation for the good of all the people of Texas.” The full text of his message is available here.
Chancellor McRaven created quite a stir in the media with his May 2014 commencement speech to his alma mater at UT Austin going viral with over 3 million views on YouTube.
We envision a long and productive relationship with Chancellor McRaven advancing scientific research and innovation across the UT System, TAMEST Member Institutions, and industry throughout Texas.
The following post is part of a special blog series highlighting the importance of our O’Donnell Awards program and its impact on the program’s past recipients in medicine, engineering, science, and technology innovation, as well as the importance of scientific research to Texas. The 2014 O’Donnell Awards recipients have each agreed to contribute to the blog series.
The third post in this series was written by Dr. Thomas Truskett, recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering. Dr. Truskett was recognized for fundamental contributions in three areas—self-assembly at the nanoscale, dynamics of confined liquids, and structural arrest of complex fluids—that are important for applications ranging from biomedical imaging to the delivery of therapeutic proteins.
Dr. Thomas Truskett, Recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award in Engineering
By Thomas Truskett, Ph.D.
Through discovery and innovation, scientists and engineers have a long history of addressing challenges critical to our health, prosperity, and security; i.e., to our quality of life. Since the latter is a priority for the citizens of most communities, a practical question arises. What can be done now (e.g., as a city, state, nation, etc.) to encourage and support a lasting culture of discovery and innovation? More specifically, what actions can be taken to help create and sustain the necessary human capital and infrastructure, as well as the resources and incentives, for these activities to thrive over the long term?
The answers are, of course, community specific and require understanding a complex landscape of political, strategic, and economic considerations. Private investors and companies have financial incentives to support development of promising and profitable technologies, and—all else equal—they favor investments in locations with a healthy business environment, a vibrant technological sector, and a highly skilled workforce, often in close proximity to prestigious tier-one research universities. The latter can be particularly helpful because the intersection of education and the world-class research characteristic of tier-one institutions not only helps to attract and retain top faculty and students, but it also produces a steady stream of graduates educated in a culture of discovery and innovation. More broadly, the tier-one university goals of educating future leaders and creating and disseminating new knowledge complement those of a robust technological sector.
But that still leaves the question of what to do to cultivate an environment conducive to the long-term success of tier-one research universities? In addition to providing the necessary funding for world-class faculty and facilities (dollar amounts that get repaid many times over by the economic impact of these institutions), further investments need to be made to broadly support a culture of discovery and innovation. In Texas, one successful and forward-thinking example of such an initiative is The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST), founded a decade ago to recognize and bring together the top innovators in the state of Texas, including members of The National Academies as well as rising stars. Through its annual conferences and critical issues forums, as well as through the annual O’Donnell Awards, TAMEST has created something truly unique in Texas: a relevant innovation connection point for top educators, researchers, professionals, industry practitioners, media, and the public.
I experienced first-hand the benefits of TAMEST over the last year after being selected as the recipient of the 2014 O’Donnell Award for Engineering. It’s hard to describe how quickly giving an O’Donnell Awards Lecture at the annual conference in front of hundreds of Academy members and rising stars opens new doors for collaboration. This type of broad exposure is especially important in highly interdisciplinary fields like some of those in which I and my collaborators work, including computational material design and engineering liquid forms of biological therapeutics for at-home treatment of disease. Based on interactions and conversations associated with the O’Donnell Awards and the annual conference, I learned of fascinating complementary approaches, techniques, and ideas from other areas of science and engineering that advanced our research capabilities, and I have also established entirely new collaborations that are broadening the impact of our work. As the new year approaches, I look forward to the chance to return and participate in the annual conference and contribute to what has become a powerful and enlightening interaction forum for discovery and innovation in Texas.