Dr. Benjamin Deneen honored by TAMEST for brain research


Dr. Benjamin Deneen, professor and Dr. Russell J. and Marian K. Blattner Chair in Neurosurgery and director of the Center for Cancer Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, has been awarded the 2024 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Medicine from the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science & Technology (TAMEST).

He is among five other scientists and engineers recognized for their groundbreaking work. The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually are given to 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.


Video curtesy of TAMEST

Deneen was chosen for his research that has opened an entirely new field of study set to ultimately impact brain tumor patients and give potential insights into a wide range of developmental diseases.

For many years, neurological research has focused on one particular cell in the brain, the neuron. Deneen’s research, however, focused instead on the astrocyte, the most abundant brain cell. His research has revealed that astrocytes influence brain circuits and animal behavior by communicating with neurons. These lines of communication play an essential role in everyday behaviors, and if they get disrupted, diseases and neurological disorders follow.

Astrocytes are implicated in every brain disorder and disease. Therefore, gaining a better understanding of what they specifically do will provide valuable insight into developmental neurobiology, the mechanisms by which brain diseases develop and progress, and the mechanisms necessary for treating them. Deneen’s findings have changed the way scientists view brain circuits, laying the groundwork for new therapeutic opportunities to combat neurological disorders.

“Knowledge of these neural circuits could potentially lead to new treatments of various brain disorders ranging from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and even brain cancer,” said co-nominator Dr. Malcolm K. Brenner, founding director for the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy at Baylor. “Dr. Deneen is very passionate about his work and excited about his trainees and what they are achieving. You can't run a laboratory by yourself, you've got to have good people. And Dr. Deneen and his team are truly transforming our understanding of how brain cells communicate.”

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.

Additional awardees include:

•  Engineering: Ashok Veeraraghavan, Ph.D., Rice University
•  Biological Sciences: Vincent Tagliabracci, Ph.D., UT Southwestern Medical Center
•  Physical Sciences: Shengqian Ma, Ph.D., University of North Texas
•  Technology Innovation: Kimberly A. Hambuchen, Ph.D., NASA Johnson Space Center