UF researcher received national ‘Life Sciences’ award

Bryon Petersen, Ph.D.


Bryon Petersen, Ph.D., an associate professor of pathology at UF’s College of Medicine. Photo by Sarah Kiewel

Bryon Petersen, Ph.D., an associate professor of pathology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, received the second annual Chairmen’s Distinguished Life Sciences Award on Thursday, April 30 from the Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Petersen was recognized for his work using bone marrow-derived stem cells to develop therapies to combat liver disorders, according to Judith M. Shellenberger, executive director of the foundation. He was recognized at a luncheon award ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Petersen’s discovery that bone-marrow derived cells could become functioning liver cells was published in the journal Science in 1999. Since then, several clinical trials have been attempted based upon the findings.

“I think we’ve been able to cross a threshold and will soon reduce the need for liver transplants,” Petersen said. “Our goal is to quickly and effectively treat patients so they can be taken off the donor list.”

The $25,000 award is one of four sponsored by a public-private partnership between the U.S. Chamber and the Foundation, which is a federal agency established by Congress to encourage and support research, study and labor designed to produce new discoveries for human benefit.

Petersen’s studies combine two high-profile biomedical fields — stem cells and gene therapy — in an effort to find cures, not just treatments. Currently he is working on inherited metabolic diseases of the liver, including Crigler-Najjar syndrome, which requires children to spend 12 hours daily under special blue lights to help their bodies eliminate natural toxins, and glycogen storage disease, which renders children unable to maintain their blood glucose levels.

The Life Sciences Awards were established to recognize scientists, secondary school educators and high school students who are judged to exemplify excellence in life sciences. Petersen is only the second person to receive the Chairmen’s Distinguished Life Sciences Award. In 2008, the award was given to Christine Schmidt, a professor of biomedical and chemical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who conducts research in neural cell and tissue engineering.

Petersen will join a roster of Foundation Scholars that include notable researchers such as Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University, who led a team that invented the artificial bladder, and Dr. Robert Gallo of the University of Maryland, a pioneering HIV researcher.