UT Southwestern Launches Fundraising Effort to Honor Beth Levine, M.D.

National prize to continue autophagy pioneer's legacy

To commemorate a researcher who kept the institution at the forefront of her field, UT Southwestern Medical Center announced efforts to establish the Beth Levine, M.D. Prize in Autophagy Research.

Beth Levine
The late Beth Levine, M.D., describes how autophagy works in the body during a President's Lecture in early 2011. David Geshem/UT Southwestern Medical Center

The award honors Beth Levine, M.D., who died from breast cancer in 2020. Internationally revered, Dr. Levine pioneered research on autophagy, a housekeeping 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,” said Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern. “This award honors her work and career that led to novel insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying autophagy and their broad implications for basic cellular and many prevalent diseases.”

The institution set an initial fundraising goal of $500,000 to create the prize. Funds would be invested as an endowment held in perpetuity, and distributions are expected to support an annual award and lecture.

A committee of UT Southwestern faculty and other leading researchers will award the prize through a competitive, international process. The winning scholar will be invited to UT Southwestern to make a major presentation on their research.

Ellen S. Vitetta, Ph.D., Professor of Immunology and Microbiology, is Chair of the campaign steering committee. Other UTSW faculty members on the committee are Melanie H. Cobb, Ph.D., Professor of Pharmacology; Helen H. Hobbs, M.D., Director of the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development with additional appointments in Internal Medicine and Molecular Genetics; Lora Hooper, Ph.D., Chair of Immunology with additional appointments in Microbiology and in the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense; Sean J. Morrison, Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics and Director of Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern; Kim Orth, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry; Julie Pfeiffer, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology; Michael K. Rosen, Ph.D., Chair of Biophysics; Joseph S. Takahashi, Ph.D., Chair of Neuroscience; and Thomas Wang, M.D., Chair of Internal Medicine. Dr. Levine’s husband, Milton Packer, M.D., also sits on the committee.

Dr. Levine served as Director of the Center for Autophagy Research at UT Southwestern, where she held the Charles Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, the esteemed researcher and Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology also served as Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and as the Jay P. Sanford Professor in Infectious Diseases. She was an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for more than a decade.

Best known for discovering beclin 1, the first autophagy gene found in mammals, Dr. Levine tirelessly explored its role in everything from tumor suppression and longevity to diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.

Michael Shiloh, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology, credited his colleague’s work with opening up a new field of study and inspiring “a generation of autophagy researchers.”

Donations to the Beth Levine Prize in Autophagy Research can be made by contacting the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 214-648-2344, or online.

  • Dr. Cobb holds the Jane and Bill Browning, Jr. Chair in Medical Science.
  • Dr. Hobbs holds the 1995 Dallas Heart Ball in Cardiology Research, the Eugene McDermott Distinguished Chair for the Study of Human Growth and Development, and the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Chair in Developmental Biology.
  • Dr. Hooper holds the Jonathan W. Uhr, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Immunology and is a Nancy Cain and Jeffrey A. Marcus Scholar in Medical Research, in Honor of Dr. Bill S. Vowell.
  • Dr. Morrison holds the Kathryne and Gene Bishop Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern and the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.
  • Dr. Orth holds the Earl A. Forsythe Chair in Biomedical Science.
  • Dr. Pfeiffer holds the Kern and Marnie Wildenthal President’s Research Council Professorship in Medical Science.
  • 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.
  • Dr. Rosen holds the Mar Nell and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry.
  • Dr. Shiloh holds the Professorship in Infectious Diseases, in honor of James P. Luby, M.D.
  • Dr. Takahashi holds the Loyd B. Sands Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience.
  • Dr. Vitetta holds The Scheryle Simmons Patigian Distinguished Chair in Cancer Immunobiology.
  • Dr. Wang holds the Donald W. Seldin Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine.