Helen Piwnica-Worms, Ph.D., has been named the first Gerty T. Cori Professor at the School of Medicine.
Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, made the announcement.
The Gerty T. Cori Professor is named in honor of a University faculty member who shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine with her husband and fellow faculty member, Carl Cori, in 1947. They received the prize for their studies of the control of sugar metabolism.
Cori was the first female scientist to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine. In April, she and three other U.S. scientists will be recognized for their significant accomplishments on a set of U.S. Postal Service stamps.
“Gerty Cori was one of the most preeminent female scientists of the 20th century,” said Piwnica-Worms, professor of cell biology and physiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “It is a tremendous honor to be awarded a professorship named in her honor. I can only hope that my work will have a fraction of the impact that her pioneering discoveries had in biomedicine.”
The professorship is endowed as a component of the University’s BioMed 21 initiative. That initiative is dedicated to speedily translating laboratory discoveries into new approaches for patient diagnosis and treatment.
“Helen’s studies focus on very basic inquiries into the life cycle of the cell, and she’s proven herself adept at applying the insights she gains in cancer treatment and other critical areas of clinical research,” Shapiro said.
Piwnica-Worms’ research has helped show how mechanisms known as checkpoints interface with the cell cycle machinery to delay the cell’s progress through its life stages. The delays provide cells with important opportunities to inspect their DNA for damage. If damage is detected, cells can attempt repairs or self-destruct to prevent that damage from leading to cancer.
The new position is one of four professorships established by John F. McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust to support the BioMed 21 initiative. The professorships all are named for Nobel Prize-winning faculty members from WUSTL. The McDonnell family, through its foundation and personal giving, has provided substantial support to University over the years.
In addition to establishing numerous professorships, they have made generous gifts in support of facilities and research efforts at the University. McDonnell, the younger son of honored aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, is vice chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees and has served on the Board since 1976.
“Washington University is very grateful for the continued generosity and leadership of John F. McDonnell,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said.
“The support he and the foundation provide to the University has been essential to our ability to reward and encourage the accomplishments of talented faculty members. In turn, the achievements of these faculty members have helped maintain and advance Washington Univ-ersity’s position as a national leader in research and education,” Wrighton said.
Piwnica-Worms earned a doctorate at Duke University Medical School and did postdoctoral research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Prior to her appointment at WUSTL in 1994, she held appointments at Tufts University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Hospital.