Dr. Vincent S. Tagliabracci honored for advancements in chemical research

Houston, TX – January 13, 2020 – The Welch Foundation today announced that Dr. Vincent S. Tagliabracci will be the recipient of the 2020 Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Having already made significant scientific contributions in biochemistry, Dr. Tagliabracci is being recognized as a ‘rising star’ in his field. 

“We are proud to recognize Dr. Tagliabracci for his extraordinary accomplishments,” said Carin M. Barth, Chair, The Welch Foundation Board of Directors.  “He has hit an exciting and rewarding area of research, and we look forward to following and benefitting from his successes and discoveries in the years to come.” 

An Assistant Professor in the Molecular Biology Department at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dr. Tagliabracci has made high impact discoveries with pseudokinases.  Also known as zombie enzymes, pseudokinases were once thought to be inactive because they lack key amino acid residues needed for phosphorylation, the chemistry that defines the more than 500 known protein kinases in humans. Dr. Tagliabracci’s laboratory showed that some pseudokinases are actually active and work through different kinds of chemistry that can govern the spread of deadly bacteria and have important implications for a number of diseases, including cancer, and neurodegenerative disorders. 

“I feel truly honored to be selected as this year’s Hackerman Award recipient,” said Dr. Tagliabracci. “There is a long list of remarkable scientists who are previous recipients, and I am grateful to join this prestigious group.” 

“Vincent Tagliabracci is an inventive scientist who is very deserving of this honor,” said Peter B. Dervan, Chair, The Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board.  “His creative work has uncovered atypical kinase domains with unexpected activities important in biology.”

After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Indianapolis, Dr. Tagliabracci went on to earn his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Indiana University under the supervision of Dr. Peter Roach. He joined the laboratory of Dr. Jack Dixon as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego in 2010, where he discovered a novel family of “secreted” kinases that phosphorylate proteins destined for secretion from the cell. As part of this work, he identified Fam20C as the bona fide "Golgi casein kinase", an enzyme that escaped identification for many years.  In 2015, he joined the faculty at UT Southwestern as a Michael L. Rosenberg Scholar in Medical Research. He is the recipient of the Esther L. Kinsley dissertation award from Indiana University, the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, a Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) recruitment of first-time, tenure-track faculty member award and was named a Searle Scholar in 2018. 

“The Welch Foundation has been impactful on my career from the early stages,” said Dr. Tagliabracci. “The Foundation supported my work when I first started my lab, and so many of the discoveries we have made would not have been possible without that funding.”

The Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research was established by The Welch Foundation to honor Norman Hackerman, its Scientific Advisory Board chair from 1982 to 2006. The award recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. It is designed to encourage scientists who are embarking on careers dedicated to increasing our fundamental understanding of chemistry. Upon accepting the award, Dr. Tagliabracci will receive $100,000, as well as a bronze sculpture to commemorate the occasion. 

The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, is one of the nation’s largest private funding sources for fundamental chemical research.  Since 1954, the organization has contributed more than $930 million to the advancement of chemistry through research grants, departmental grants, endowed chairs, and support for other chemistry-related programs in Texas. 

For more information on the Foundation and a list of previous Hackerman Award recipients, please visit www.welch1.org.

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