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UT Austin Innovators to Receive O’Donnell Awards from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas

One recipient studies fish for clues to how our immune systems work and the other is using lasers to see what’s happening in our brains.

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AUSTIN, Texas — Two faculty members from The University of Texas at Austin will receive Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards from The Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST) at its annual conference on Jan. 11.

The O’Donnell Awards were established to recognize and promote outstanding scientific achievements of the state’s most promising researchers.

Daniel Bolnick, professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, will receive the 2017 O’Donnell Award in Science. Andrew Dunn, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and director of the Center for Emerging Imaging Technologies, will receive the 2017 O’Donnell Award in Engineering. Meng Wang, associate professor of molecular and human genetics at the Baylor College of Medicine, will receive the 2017 O’Donnell Award in Medicine.

Bolnick has deepened our understanding of how evolution and ecology intersect. His work often takes him into the natural world, including yearly trips to Canada to study parasite resistance in fish. By understanding how some fish are resistant to parasites, we could achieve a better understanding of our own immune systems, which could lead to better treatments for ailments ranging from allergies to Crohn’s disease.



“It’s this synthesis of ecology and evolution that’s enabled him to open up a whole new area,” says Daniel Jaffe, vice president for research at UT Austin. “This environment he’s created for himself is really rich and ripe for the possibilities of discovery. He’s really broken new ground across a very broad field that has a lot of impact.”

Dunn has developed technology that allows us to see things we haven’t seen before in the human brain. Through his laser speckle imaging technique, we can now see blood flowing in the brain in real time, allowing us to see where clots are forming. This allows neurosurgeons to easily identify areas suffering from reduced blood flow and prevent strokes.



“He has developed this magnificient laboratory and exceptional research,” says Nicholas Peppas, the director of UT Austin’s Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery and Regenerative Medicine and a Cockrell School professor who also holds appointments in the Dell Medical School and School of Pharmacy. “He’s been able to use advanced optical techniques to really see the very early stages of clots in the brain. This was not possible before he started working on it.”

TAMEST will present the awards on Jan. 11 during its annual conference in San Antonio. The awards were named in honor of Edith and Peter O’Donnell for their support of TAMEST, and include a $25,000 honorarium, a citation and an inscribed statue.