Burroughs Career Award for Medical Scientists spurs transition

By Deborah Wormser

Rhea Sumpter, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Rhea Sumpter Jr.

Dr. Rhea Sumpter Jr., Instructor of Internal Medicine, has received a 2013 Career Award for Medical Scientists from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

The award will provide $700,000 over five years to support Dr. Sumpter’s transition from a postdoctoral researcher to a faculty position.

“I'm deeply honored to receive this award. The generosity of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund will allow me to broaden my work on a novel link between several genes that are mutated in Fanconi anemia – a disease associated with bone marrow failure and cancer – and autophagy,” Dr. Sumpter said. “These studies have the potential to place Fanconi anemia genes in a pathway linking innate immunity, inflammation, and cancer. That, in turn, could lead to new therapeutic insights not only in Fanconi anemia, but also in many other diseases in which this cellular housekeeping pathway is deranged.”

The Career Award, announced in June, was the second recent honor for Dr. Sumpter, who in May received a 2013 Distinguished Researcher Award from UT Southwestern’s President’s Research Council.

Dr. Sumpter graduated from UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Medical Scientist Training Program in 2006 and then completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at UT Southwestern. In addition, he was a fellow in Infectious Diseases and in the Physician Scientist Training Program. His Ph.D. research resulted in two first-author papers in the Journal of Virology and five other studies he co-wrote.

In 2009 he joined the laboratory of Dr. Beth Levine, Director of the Center for Autophagy Research. Dr. Levine, also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, is world-renowned for her work on autophagy, a fundamental cellular housekeeping and recycling pathway.

In Dr. Levine’s lab, Dr. Sumpter co-wrote several studies on viruses and autophagy, including two published in Nature.

“Rhea is an outstanding physician-scientist. His work on Fanconi anemia genes has led to important new insights into pathways at the crossroads of immunity, cancer biology, and inflammation. Such work has the potential to ultimately impact the way we treat infectious diseases, cancer, and inflammatory disorders,” said Dr. Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine.

Prior to his arrival at UT Southwestern, Dr. Sumpter, a magna cum laude biochemistry graduate of Rice University, completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Argentina.

Dr. Sumpter was among 10 North American researchers selected for a 2013 Career Award. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund is an independent private foundation dedicated to advancing the biomedical sciences by supporting research and other educational endeavors.

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Dr. Levine holds the Charles Cameron Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science.

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