DALLAS (AP) — Dr. Bruce Beutler is sharing this year's Nobel Prize in medicine, but on Tuesday he was singled out and praised at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas where he began his major research.
Beutler, 53, who was one of three scientists chosen Monday to receive the Nobel Prize for discoveries about the immune system, was named the new and founding director of the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense at UT Southwestern on Sept. 1.
"I feel so grateful to all of you and I'm so happy to be back here at UT Southwestern," he told a standing-room-only crowd in a campus auditorium.
Beutler, who holds dual appointments at UT Southwestern and as a professor of genetics and immunology at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., is currently splitting his time between both institutions but said he plans to be in Dallas full-time in November.
The bulk of his complicated research is of mice and immunity and genetic receptors that alert the body when infection is present.
"We discovered exactly how you see an infection," explained Dr. Beutler. "How the immune system sees it. How you become aware when you have an infection, so your immune system can respond to it."
Dr. Gregory Fitz, executive vice president for academic affairs, provost and dean of UT Southwestern Medical School, said the idea for the center was born 18 months ago when a group of faculty leaders approached him about the need for the school to commit itself to further explore immunology given its importance in so many aspects of medicine, especially infection, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Eugene Frenkel, professor of internal medicine and radiology, suggested that Beutler might be the ideal leader of such a center.
"This immediately caught on with the campus," Fitz said. "All of us here were so well acquainted with the work he'd performed here and at Scripps and we were convinced — out of the box — that this was the person that could lead such an effort."
Beutler will actively recruit new faculty members to join him in research as they build "a bigger and better program" at UT Southwestern, Fitz said.
The school anticipates spending about $20 million over the next 10 years to support the center with funding from private donors, grants and the UT System's STARS program — designed to attract and retain top faculty.
Beutler started his scientific career at UT Southwestern and served on the faculty from 1986 to 2000.
On Tuesday, he recalled "learning the meaning of hard work" on the campus, where he was an intern and then a resident there after medical school at the University of Chicago. He said he spent days working 24 and 36-hour shifts and even longer without leaving the Dallas hospital.
Beutler said he went to medical school "to really learn about the process of disease, to understand what the big problems were out there. And I most certainly did."
He is the fifth Nobel laureate on the faculty at UT Southwestern.
Buetler's discovery triggered a worldwide explosion of research into immunity.
The science is now leading to the development of medications for inflammatory disease, including lupus and arthritis. Arthritis affects more than 50 million Americans.
"I think there will be better and much more specific treatments for inflammatory disease," Beutler said.
Beutler shares this year's Nobel Prize in medicine with French scientist Jules Hoffman, 70 — who also was honored for discoveries about body's disease-fighting immune system — and Canadian-born Ralph Steinman, 68, a pioneer in understanding how cells fight disease who died Friday.