Saigh Foundation provides gift for distinguished professor; Yoram Rudy installed as initial holder

Yoram Rudy, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, was installed as the inaugural Fred Saigh Distinguished Professor of Engineering in a ceremony Nov. 22 in Uncas A. Whitaker Hall for Biomedical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. The professorship is a gift from the Saigh Foundation, created by Fred M. Saigh to continue his philanthropic work by assisting St. Louis-area organizations that benefit children and youth, primarily in the areas of education and health care. The Foundation is particularly interested in stimulating the development of new ventures, as well as in supporting organizations that feature innovative approaches or programs.

“By supporting the University’s biomedical engineering department, the Saigh Foundation contributes to the advancement of cardiac research,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “We are most grateful to the Foundation for helping us attract a world class researcher and teacher such as Yoram Rudy, whose work will undoubtedly lead to breakthroughs in the detection and treatment of cardiac arrhythmias, which claim the lives of so many today.”

Rudy joined the University this fall as professor of biomedical engineering with joint appointments in the departments of Cell Biology and Physiology, of Medicine, of Radiology and of Pediatrics. He is director of a new interdisciplinary center, the Cardiac Bioelectricity and Arrhythmia Center, through which he is continuing his research on the mechanics of cardiac arrhythmias and how they lead to sudden death.

“The addition of Rudy to our department further enhances our reputation in cardiovascular engineering,” said Frank C-P Yin, Ph.D., M.D., the Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Professor and chair of biomedical engineering. “He has made landmark contributions to a better understanding of cardiac arrhythmias, and we expect him and his collaborators to make many more important breakthroughs and bring them to clinical applications.”

Rudy has used a computational-biology approach to study arrhythmias at various levels of the cardiac system, and his laboratory has also developed detailed computer models of the workings of cardiac cells.

In addition, he has developed a novel, noninvasive imaging modality for cardiac electrophysiology and arrhythmias. The new method, called electrocardiographic imaging, adds a much-needed clinical tool for the diagnosis and treatment of erratic heart rhythms; it also provides a noninvasive method for mechanistic studies of cardiac arrhythmias in humans.

A native of Israel, he earned an undergraduate degree in physics in 1970 from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He continued his studies at the Technion, conducting research in quantum mechanics (tunneling phenomena in superconductors), for which he earned a master’s degree in 1973.

During his graduate studies, Rudy developed an interest in the life sciences and, in particular, in the physics of living systems. In fall 1973, he joined the biomedical engineering doctoral program at Case Western Reserve University, where he conducted research in bioelectric phenomena under the guidance of Robert Plonsey, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field. Rudy earned a doctorate in 1978.

In 1980, he joined Case’s biomedical engineering faculty as assistant professor. He later became the M. Frank and Margaret C. Rudy Professor of Cardiac Bioelectricity, with appointments in the departments of Biomedical Engineering, of Physiology and Biophysics and of Medicine. In 1994, he established the interdisciplinary Cardiac Bioelectricity Research and Training Center and became its director. The center included 32 faculty members from various departments in engineering, science and the medical school.

Rudy has published more than 200 technical papers and has graduated 18 doctoral and 20 master’s students.

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering and a fellow of the American Physiological Society. He is the recipient of a Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health, the Biomedical Engineering Society Distinguished Lectureship Award, the Gordon K. Moe Professorship Award and the Ueda Memorial Award.

“We are excited to have Dr. Rudy join us at Washington University after such a distinguished career at Case Western Reserve University,” Yin said.

Saigh was born in Springfield, Ill., in 1905, the son of Lebanese immigrants who owned a chain of grocery stores. The oldest of five children, Saigh was brought up in Kewanee, Ill., and attended Bradley University.

He loved sports and was an excellent student, graduating from the Northwestern University School of Law at the age of 21. Saigh’s commitment to hard work and determination led to his rapid rise to success as an attorney.

In 1946, he became an investor in historic downtown St. Louis by purchasing the architecturally notable Railway Exchange Building and Syndicate Trust Building. In the late 1940s, Saigh and Robert Hannegan, postmaster general and Democratic Party chairman, purchased the St. Louis Cardinals from Sam Breadon. In 1949, when Hannegan’s health failed, Saigh bought out his partner’s share.

Saigh knew little about the business of baseball, but he was a quick study and worked hard to learn as much as he could, as quickly as he could, about America’s pastime. He was considered a generous and fair owner by players and fans alike. Early on, he gave many players — including rookies — substantial salary raises, above and beyond major-league guidelines.

In one famous incident from the spring of 1952, Saigh put a blank contract in front of the legendary Stan Musial and told him to fill in the amount he felt he deserved. “Stan the Man” wrote in $85,000. The figure was acceptable to both parties.

In 1953, Saigh sold the team to Anheuser-Busch for $750,000 less than he would have received from out-of-state interests. He was adamant that the Cardinals stay in St. Louis, and his act ensured this.

In his later years, Saigh devoted himself to friends and family, and to assisting those less fortunate. He died in 1999 at the age of 94, after a brief illness.

The Saigh Foundation pays tribute to him by continuing to honor his contribution to the community and by extending his most important gifts to those in need.