Benjamin P. Tu, an associate professor of biochemistry and W. W. Caruth Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is the recipient of the Welch Foundation’s 2014 Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. The $100,000 award, named in honor of academic scientist Norman Hackerman, is presented annually to recognize a young scientist conducting basic chemistry research in Texas.
Tu’s research suggests that metabolites may be the drivers of key cellular processes rather than mere bystanders, as conventional wisdom had held. In research that may lead to new treatments for human disease, Tu identified a unique nutritional pathway in mammalian cells that is unnecessary for healthy cells but crucial to support the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells. He then discovered a way to block that pathway.
“Dr. Tu’s work is advancing our understanding of what could be a very critical connection between metabolism and the fundamental cellular processes of cell growth, division, and autophagy, the ‘housecleaning’ process through which cells destroy damaged proteins and organelles,” according to Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern.
Tu earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco, and completed a postdoc at UT Southwestern. His other awards include the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences, a Sara & Frank McKnight Foundation Fellowship, a AAAS/Science/GE Healthcare Young Scientist Regional Award, and a Packard Fellowship for Science & Engineering.