UTSW Pharmacologist James Collins receives 2023 TAMEST Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award

DALLAS – Jan. 19, 2023 – James Collins III, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, will receive the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Biological Sciences from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST) for broadening understanding of schistosomiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms that infect hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including children.

TAMEST presents the annual awards to recognize the achievements of early career Texas investigators in the fields of science, medicine, engineering, and technology innovation. Dr. Collins is the 16th scientist at UT Southwestern to receive an O’Donnell award since TAMEST initiated the awards in 2006.

Schistosomes are parasitic worms that live in certain types of freshwater snails and enter an individual when skin encounters contaminated freshwater through wading, swimming, bathing, or drinking. The disease affects almost 240 million annually and is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease becomes progressively worse over time as the female parasitic worms lay millions of eggs inside the host, which cause debilitating inflammatory responses and scarring as more and more eggs get trapped in the liver, intestines or even the brain. After years of infection, the parasite can also damage the liver, intestines, lungs, and bladder as well as cause anemia, malnutrition, and learning difficulties in children.

Dr. Collins was the first to be able to set up the culture conditions to monitor the reproductive cycle of the worms without having to pass it through a host. In doing so, he has transformed society’s understanding of schistosomes by discovering and isolating the pheromone or signal used when male worms contact a female. Experts believe understanding and isolating the exchange provides a great new direction for the field and may cause relief to the millions it affects each year in developing nations. 

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“The only current treatment for schistosomes targets the worms themselves, not the eggs that can survive 30 years in the body, creating a debilitating cycle in patients even with treatment,” said nominator David J. Mangelsdorf, Ph.D., Alfred G. Gilman Distinguished Chair of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern. “Dr. Collins is a bold visionary who has not only identified new therapeutic avenues against these parasites by focusing instead on the eggs and reproduction, but he has uncovered new paradigms in cell signaling and developmental biology as well. He and his team have laid the groundwork toward something that will eventually break the cycle of egg laying and provide a better outlook for the disease.” 

The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually 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.

The 2023 recipients will be honored at the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on May 24 and will give presentations on their research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2023 Annual Conference, Forward Texas – Accelerating Change, at the InterContinental Medical Center in Houston.

“The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards aim to identify rising stars in Texas research to support their careers moving forward and there is no question that this year’s recipients are incredible researchers who epitomize the Texas can-do spirit,” said Edith and Peter O’Donnell Committee Chair Ann Beal Salamone, Chairman of the Board at Rochal Industries. “Our elite group of past O’Donnell recipients have a spectacular track record of going on to national academy election and benefiting from the mentorship and awareness these awards bring to the groundbreaking research happening in our state. These recipients fit into the same mold and we can’t wait to see to see where their discoveries lead and hope to welcome them as TAMEST Members in the years to come.”

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 has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 24 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 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 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.