Nobel Laureate Dr. Bruce Beutler spoke to students Wednesday about his journey to winning the Nobel Prize for Baylor’s Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement week.
In 2011, Beutler won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with his colleague Jules Hoffman for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity. They identified key proteins that can activate parts of the immune system and act as a defense against potentially harmful pathogens.
Beutler is a regental professor and director of the Center for Genetics of Host Defense at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Where, he has continued his research, developing faster ways to find mutations in genes.
At a young age Beutler had a fascination with plants and animals in nature and was inspired by several family members to pursue a career in research early on. After he graduated from college in 1977, he went on to medical school at the University of Chicago.
“I learned about how an organism worked, but I really missed working in the lab,” Beutler said. “In some sense, it felt like a diversion from what I really wanted to do.”
After graduating from medical school, Beutler immersed himself back into research by working in several labs throughout the years. In 1993 he became fascinated with an LPS cloning project that attempted to identify the specific location of a gene. This lasted for about five years.
It became an obsession of mine to the extent I would dream about the gene at night and would do very little else during the day other than work on trying to tack down the gene,” Beutler said.
Almost two decades of intense research later, on Oct. 3, 2011, Beutler received an email saying he won a Nobel Prize.
“I looked at my cell phone at 2:30 p.m. in the morning, and the subject line when I checked my email was ‘Nobel Prize.’ And I thought, ‘That’s very interesting. This year they are telling members of the National Academy who won the Nobel Prize in a mass email’” Beutler said. “I thought it was maybe a joke, but it didn’t turn out to be.”
Beutler now travels the world speaking about his research and some of the obstacles he faced throughout his career.
“Everybody always wants to know how to win a Nobel Prize and what you attribute to your success,” Beutler said.
Beutler’s advice to students hoping to pursue a career in research after college was to choose an undervalued but important question, attack a single problem by being relentless, be confident and not prepared for failure and believe something can be achieved beyond being deterred from pursing it.
“I really enjoyed it,” Denton senior Brittany Ladd said. “He touched on some things that I am interested in in medicine, and to hear somebody actually apply what I want to do, knowing that it’s possible, is really inspiring.”
Similarly to Beutler, Ladd plans to one day conduct research in addition to becoming a pediatric doctor.
Ladd said she was impacted by Beutler’s constant persistence through his research because there are many opportunities to make breakthroughs in medical research.