Newswise — DALLAS – March 09, 2023 – UT Southwestern Medical Center has established the Beth Levine, M.D. Prize in Autophagy Research, an annual award and lecture for exceptional scientists who have made significant contributions to the field of autophagy.

Considered the founder of the field of mammalian autophagy, the late Dr. Levine was an internationally revered investigator whose groundbreaking work demonstrated that autophagy plays a critical role in the determination of human health and as a driving mechanism in a broad range of human diseases. Autophagy is a mechanism cells use to get rid of damaged components and maintain cellular health.

“Dr. Levine was an exemplar of excellence in research. She has left a legacy through her fundamental discoveries as well as her trainees who were steeped in science through her mentorship. This prize honors her work and career that led to novel insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying autophagy and their broad implications for basic cellular biology and many prevalent diseases,” said Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern.

Dr. Levine is best known for discovering the first mammalian autophagy gene, which she named beclin 1, and demonstrating that autophagy played a critical role in the determination of human health. Over a span of two decades, her findings repeatedly deciphered the mysteries of the molecular pathways that were essential to cellular health and survival. Her laboratory identified conserved mechanisms underlying the regulation of autophagy and provided the first evidence that autophagy genes are important in antiviral host defense, tumor suppression, neurodegenerative diseases, life span extension, metazoan development, diabetes, and the beneficial metabolic effects of exercise. In addition, she developed a potent autophagy-inducing cell-permeable peptide, Tat-beclin 1, which has been shown to have numerous potential therapeutic applications in a range of human diseases.

Dr. Levine served as Director of UTSW’s Center for Autophagy Research and held the Charles Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science. She also was an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The $10,000 prize acknowledges Dr. Levine’s legacy as a world-renowned scientific investigator, a dedicated and caring mentor, and respected colleague and friend, and recognizes those who, like Dr. Levine, have made significant contributions to the field of autophagy. Nominations will be accepted through April 17.

The Beth Levine, M.D. Prize in Autophagy Research endowment was created through generous donations from scores of researchers, including Nobel Laureates, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, and members of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences – along with tremendous support from Dr. Levine’s husband, Milton Packer, M.D.; their children, Rachel and Benjamin; colleagues; former trainees; corporations; family; and friends. Distributions from the endowment will support the annual research award and lecture, ensuring Dr. Levine’s groundbreaking discoveries will be remembered by future generations of researchers.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

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.