Skip to Main

UT Southwestern molecular biologist to receive O'Donnell Award from TAMEST

Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., honored by the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology for his groundbreaking work on so-called zombie enzymes

Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D.
Photo credit: Courtesy of TAMEST (Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology)

DALLAS – Jan. 10, 2024 – Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, will receive the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences from the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST) for broadening the understanding of pseudokinases, a family of enzymes that play key roles in many physiological and pathological processes.

TAMEST presents annual awards to recognize the achievements of early-career Texas investigators in the fields of science, medicine, engineering, and technology innovation. The O’Donnell Award comes with a $25,000 honorarium and an invitation to make a presentation before hundreds of TAMEST members. Dr. Tagliabracci is the 17th scientist at UT Southwestern to be honored with an O’Donnell Award since TAMEST initiated the program in 2006.

Learn More

“I’m honored to be recognized by TAMEST and humbled to join the group of recipients from past years who are all elite scientists,” said Dr. Tagliabracci, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. “It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Pseudokinases are different from canonical kinases – molecules that catalyze the transfer of phosphate onto proteins, altering their function – such that they were originally thought to be inactive enzymes. They are nicknamed “zombie enzymes” because they were initially thought to be dead. However, Dr. Tagliabracci’s work has shown that these enzymes are alive and perform completely different kinds of chemical reactions than classical kinases. These include adenylylation (AMPylation), a process in which some pseudokinases transfer adenosine monophosphate, one of the nucleotides that makes up RNA, to proteins and glutamylation, in which pseudokinases transfer the amino acid glutamate to proteins.

More recently, Dr. Tagliabracci led a study that identified a pseudokinase necessary for capping viral RNAs, a process pivotal for the function of coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Inhibiting this process could offer a new way to treat COVID-19, a disease that has taken the lives of nearly 7 million people around the globe, according to the World Health Organization.

“Dr. Tagliabracci’s discoveries of unexpected activities of atypical kinases in diverse clades of life have expanded the boundaries of the kinome and unveiled new biology with a broad range of therapeutic applications,” said Eric Olson, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of Molecular Biology at UTSW, who nominated Dr. Tagliabracci for the O’Donnell Award.

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell 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 Awards are made possible by the O’Donnell Awards Endowment Fund, established in 2005 through the generous support of several individuals and organizations.

This year's recipients will be honored at the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Feb. 6 and will present their research preceding the awards ceremony at the TAMEST 2024 Annual Conference: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at the AT&T Hotel and Conference Center in Austin.

“The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards bring together a broad group of disciplines and expertise and create the space to talk about cross-disciplinary approaches to future solutions – and we couldn’t be prouder of this year’s group of innovative recipients,” said Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Committee Chair Oliver Mullins, Ph.D., SLB Fellow for global technology company SLB and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. “These researchers are transforming the future of science and innovation in our state, and these awards are an important mechanism for maintaining a link between academia and industry and moving the research needle forward for our society.”

Dr. Tagliabracci is a Michael L. Rosenberg Scholar in Medical Research. Dr. Olson holds The Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Science, the Pogue Distinguished Chair in Research on Cardiac Birth Defects, and the Annie and Willie Nelson Professorship in Stem Cell Research.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center 

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty members have received six Nobel Prizes and include 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 13 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 3,100 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 120,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 5 million outpatient visits a year.