Five innovators whose work could deliver “real-world impact” to key fields in science have been announced as the winners of the inaugural 2024 Hill Prizes by TAMEST and Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Each of the five winners was awarded $500,000 to advance their research.
TAMEST—the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology—and Dallas-based funding partner Lyda Hill Philanthropies announced the winners of the prizes, which recognize exceptional innovators by providing seed funding to advance groundbreaking science and highlight Texas as a premier destination for world-class research.
The prizes are given in five categories, with the 2024 winners named as:
MEDICINE: Martin M. Matzuk, M.D., Ph.D. (NAS)
Director of the Center for Drug Discovery and Chair, Stuart A. Wallace Chair, Robert L. Moody, Sr. Chair, and Professor in the Department of Pathology & Immunology at Baylor College of Medicine
Dr. Matzuk’s team’s proposal was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Medicine for creating a novel approach to treat endometriosis, a debilitating chronic uterine disease. His team has identified a new therapeutic approach to relieve the pain while causing endometriotic tissue to shrink as well. The team has used this research to find several potential drug candidates, TAMEST said, and will use the prize funding to perform preclinical development studies to create “first-in-class non-steroidal drugs” to treat endometriosis.
ENGINEERING: Maria A. Croyle, Ph.D.
Professor of Pharmaceutics at The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy
Dr. Croyle’s team’s proposal was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Engineering for demonstrating innovative techniques that will allow vaccines and biological drugs to be transported without the need for temperature control, which could lead to the rapid global distribution of life-saving medicines. Using methods from virology, immunology, and drug delivery, the team developed “a simple, resource-sparing system to preserve vaccines so they can be shipped worldwide without the need for ice or to be kept at a specific temperature,” TAMEST said. The team will use prize funding to advance the product to full scale production, allowing for the innovation to move from the lab to the clinic and have “a profound impact in the developing world.”
BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES: Russell A. DeBose-Boyd, Ph.D. (NAS)
Beatrice and Miguel Elias Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science and a Professor of Molecular Genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center
Dr. DeBose-Boyd was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Biological Sciences for his work’s potential to make statins more effective and provide insight into their side effects. His research deploys an array of tools including mouse genetics, biochemistry, screening, and structural biology with “the potential to develop a new class of statin enhancer drugs” while improving our understanding of statins’ side effects, TAMEST said. DeBose-Boyd will use the prize funding to advance his studies and provide for “genetically modified mice studies.”
PHYSICAL SCIENCES: Allan H. MacDonald, Ph.D. (NAS)
Professor and Director of the Center for Complex Quantum Systems in the Department of Physics at The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. MacDonald’s team’s proposal was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Physical Sciences for its potential to create a new energy storage device called the quantum supercapacitor—a new, low-carbon way to store energy. If the device is successful, the team’s work would create a new energy storage technology “with longer lifetime and faster charging speeds,” TAMEST said. Dr. MacDonald and his team will use the prize funding to advance their ongoing research and “probe the performance limits of quantum supercapacitors.”
TECHNOLOGY: Hermann Lebit, Ph.D.
Founder and Principal of Alma Energy
Dr. Lebit’s team’s proposal was chosen for the 2024 Hill Prize in Technology for developing clean, emission-free direct lithium extraction using geothermal energy. Partnering with researchers at the University of Texas at El Paso, his team used resources within Texas to extract lithium (which is used in car batteries), hydrogen (used in the petrochemical industry) and fresh water—all while sequestering carbon during each process. His team will utilize prize funding to advance the technology “to field testing, secure pilot project sites, and complete water sampling procedures.”
Watching the winners ‘change the world’
TAMEST President Brendan Lee, M.D., Ph.D., of the Baylor College of Medicine, said his organization is thrilled to support this year’s winners “as we watch them change the world.”
“These prizes will accelerate their groundbreaking contributions and put them in a stronger position to receive more research funding in large-scale grants and collaborations,” Lee added in a statement. “We’re proud to advance these exceptional innovators and ideas and highlight the most exciting research in the state thanks to the vision and support of Lyda Hill.”
For her part, Lyda Hill, entrepreneur and founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies, said her organization “is committed to funding game-changing advances in science and nature and that is exactly what the Hill Prizes’ mission is.”
“We hope that the funding awarded to these Texas scientists will help enable them to launch their pivotal research into development and continue to make advancements in scientific innovation,” Hill added.
Five winners selected from more than 160 applications
UT Dallas’ David E. Daniel, Ph.D., the 2024 Hill Prizes committee chair, said there was “an astonishing amount of interest” in this year’s inaugural prizes, “which truly showcases not only the groundbreaking research happening in our state but the vital need to support and fund high-impact research in Texas.”
“The real work came from our volunteer subcommittees, who reviewed more than 160 applications and had the difficult task of selecting five proposals for funding,” Daniel added in a statement. “Their hard work paid off, and we’re proud to put forward these five diverse and truly innovative research proposals to advance with the support of Lyda Hill Philanthropies. We can’t wait to see the results of this commitment in the years to come.”
Each of the five recipients will submit an annual impact report to TAMEST and Lyda Hill Philanthropies to showcase their progress and highlight how the prize has accelerated their research, the organizations said.
2025 prizes will include new category of public health
Lyda Hill Philanthropies said it has committed “over $10 million in funding” to continue the Hill Prizes program for the next three years.
A new prize category of Public Health will be added to future programs, resulting in six prizes per year of $500,000 each. In addition, “at least $1 million in discretionary research funding” will be allocated by Lyda Hill Philanthropies on an ad hoc basis to highly ranked applicants and finalists who aren’t selected as recipients, the organization said.
Applications for 2025 prizes open May 1
Applications for the 2025 Hill Prizes will open May 1 and close May 31, 2024, the organizations said.
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