Ralph DeBerardinis, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI), has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.
DeBerardinis, who is also a UT Southwestern professor of pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, is known for his significant discoveries in cancer metabolism and research into childhood conditions known as inborn errors of metabolism. He is among 100 new members of NAM announced today. With his election, UT Southwestern now has 17 NAM members among its faculty. DeBerardinis is also the second member of CRI to be elected to NAM, along with Sean Morrison, Ph.D., director of CRI.
NAM recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and a commitment to service. Along with the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, NAM advises the nation and the international community on critical issues in health, medicine, and related policies.
“I’m so grateful to the academy for recognizing our work and for the people in my lab whose creativity and perseverance are responsible for the discoveries that led to this honor,” says DeBerardinis, who is also chief of the division of pediatric genetics and metabolism at UT Southwestern and an attending physician at Children’s Health. “I am fortunate to be in an environment at UT Southwestern and Children’s Health that values mechanistic, disease-focused research and cultivates the collaborative environment at CRI that has made our research possible. Thanks also to my family for their patience and support, and to all the patients who have participated in our studies over many years.”
DeBerardinis’ achievements include helping to pioneer a new way to study altered metabolism directly in cancer patients. This has allowed his team to uncover the mechanisms by which tumors use nutrients to produce energy and to identify metabolic pathways that allow tumors to grow and spread. The approach provides researchers with insights impossible to obtain in the laboratory and is now being used to study metabolism in nearly a dozen forms of human cancer.
Recently, the DeBerardinis laboratory discovered that lactate is metabolized by human tumors growing in the lung, a finding that challenges a nearly century-old observation known as the Warburg effect that considered lactate to be a waste product of tumor metabolism. The finding opens new avenues for the study of potential therapeutics as well as new imaging techniques in lung cancer – the world’s leading cause of cancer deaths.
“Election to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine recognizes the pioneering contributions which Dr. DeBerardinis has made to advance our understanding of cancer metabolism, particularly in children,” says Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., president of UT Southwestern. “This important distinction reflects the quality of research underway at the Children’s Medical Research Institute at UT Southwestern and we are grateful for Dr. DeBerardinis’ leadership and visionary approach to cancer research.”
Podolsky, who is also a NAM member, 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. DeBerardinis is a distinguished physician, scientist and visionary who is most deserving of being elected as a member of the National Academy of Medicine,” said Christopher J. Durovich, president and chief executive officer at Children’s Health. “Dr. DeBerardinis’ recognition as a HHMI investigator and an elected member of the Association of American Physicians as well as his election to NAM exemplify his extraordinary contributions to science and research in pediatric genetics, oncology and metabolism. We are proud of his commitment to advance knowledge and bring research to the bedside to find cures for our most vulnerable patients.”
DeBerardinis earned his medical and doctorate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), he became the first trainee in the combined residency program in pediatrics and medical genetics and received several awards for teaching and clinical care. From 2004 to 2007, DeBerardinis completed his postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Craig B. Thompson, M.D., in the Penn Cancer Center. DeBerardinis joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2008 and the CRI shortly after its founding in 2012. He was elected into the Association of American Physicians in 2020.
At UT Southwestern, DeBerardinis holds the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D. Chair in Pediatrics, and is a Sowell Family Scholar in Medical Research. At CRI, he is the Robert L. Moody, Sr., Faculty Scholar and director of the Genetic and Metabolic Disease Program (GMDP). DeBerardinis is affiliated with the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development/Center for Human Genetics and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, both at UT Southwestern.
Morrison is an HHMI investigator, a professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern and a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) Scholar in Cancer Research. He 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.
Current NAM members at UT Southwestern and the year of their induction are: Morrison, Ph.D. (2018), Joseph Takahashi, Ph.D. (2014), Podolsky (2009), Bruce Beutler, M.D. (2008), Ellen Vitetta, Ph.D. (2006), Steven McKnight, Ph.D. (2005), Helen Hobbs, M.D. (2004), Eric Olson, Ph.D. (2001), Norman Gant, M.D. (2001), Kern Wildenthal, M.D., Ph.D. (1999), Carol Tamminga, M.D. (1998), Scott Grundy, M.D., Ph.D. (1995), Jean Wilson, M.D. (1994), Michael Brown, M.D. (1987), and Joseph Goldstein, M.D. (1987).