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Baylor scientist wins award for young chemists, scores $3M for groundbreaking cancer tech

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Photo via bcm.edu

An associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine has won a prestigious award for young chemical scientists in the state and secured $3 million in funding to further develop her technology.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December. The award was established by the Houston-based Welch Foundation and recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

Eberlin runs the Eberlin Lab for Medical Mass Spectrometry at BCM and is known for her groundbreaking work in the application of mass spectrometry technologies, which are changing how physicians treat cancer and analyze tissues.

“I firmly believe that Dr. Eberlin’s commitment to transformational chemical research is unparalleled, and her impressive growth over her early independent career points to a bright future of scientific discoveries that will continue to revolutionize the field of chemical and biomedical research and improve treatment for patients,” Dr. Todd Rosengart, chair of Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine and faculty adviser to Dr. Eberlin, says in a statement. “She is highly deserving of this honor.”

In the same week, Baylor College of Medicine announced that the Eberlin Lab received $3 million in funding from The Marcus Foundation to further develop the MasSpec Pen technology in breast cancer surgeries. Eberlin developed the tool in 2016 while she was serving as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The MasSpec Pen is a device for detecting cancer directly on tissues.

“When I met Dr. Eberlin and understood how the MasSpec Pen could help surgeons and ultimately impact patient lives, it was an easy yes to support the expansion of this innovative tool. It’s absolutely brilliant technology,” says Bernie Marcus, chairman of The Marcus Foundation and co-founder of The Home Depot, in a BCM news release.

The technology is being used in clinical studies at the Texas Medical Center to detect cancer tissue during a surgical operation, which allows doctors to more accurately remove tumor tissue. The fresh funding will help enroll 200 patients at two Houston hospitals: Ben Taub Hospital and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

The Eberlin Lab at BCM is also researching ways to provide physicians with better, real-time decision-making tools to help with cancer diagnosis, disease progression, prognosis and treatment strategies, according to BCM.

“The strides Dr. Eberlin has made in her career so far are beyond commendable and make her an ideal choice for the Hackerman Award,” Douglas L. Foshee, director and chair of The Welch Foundation, said in a statement. “Her creative and hardworking nature is fundamentally changing the treatment experience for patients with cancer, not to mention the field of chemistry as a whole.”

Eberlin is originally from Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil, where she earned her undergraduate degree from State University of Campinas. She obtained her graduate degree from Purdue University and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Stanford University. In addition to the award from the Welch foundation, she has also received several other prestigious honors, including a Sloan Research Fellowship, Moore Inventor Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018.

The Welch Foundation has contributed close to $1.1 billion to scientists in Texas since it was founded in 1954. Earlier this year it funded the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization at the University of Houston through its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant.

The nonprofit organization also announced nearly $28 million in grants to Texas institutions over the summer.

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