Spector Prize goes to Fahey

Each year, the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis awards a prize to a graduating senior in memory of Marion Smith Spector, a 1938 WUSTL graduate who studied zoology under the late Viktor Hamburger, PhD.


Hamburger was a professor of biology and a prominent developmental biologist who made many important contributions while a WUSTL faculty member.

The Spector Prize, first awarded in 1974, recognizes academic excellence and outstanding undergraduate achievement in research. Students are nominated by their research mentors for outstanding research that has made substantial contributions to a field.

This year, the prize has been awarded to Paul Fahey, who graduated in December 2011 summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Fahey worked in the lab of Karen O’Malley, PhD, professor of neurobiology in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at the School of Medicine. His thesis focused Fragile X syndrome, the most common form of inherited mental retardation.

Fragile X syndrome is caused by a deficiency of a protein called FMRP, and FMRP is known to oppose the functions of a receptor called mGluR5. One of the hallmarks of Fragile X syndrome is exaggerated mGluR5 signaling in the absence of FMRP. Blocking mGluR5 protects mice against the effects of the missing protein, and thus mGluR5 is an important therapeutic target for Fragile X syndrome.

In O’Malley’s lab, Fahey studied the role of intracellular mGluR5 in opposing FMRP function. A better understanding of this role will help unravel signaling pathways associated with Fragile X syndrome and related disorders.

Fahey plans to enter a dual-degree MD/PhD program at Baylor Medical School in the fall.

As part of the biology department’s recognition of his outstanding work, Fahey will be recognized at the Biology Honors Reception at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 16, in McDonnell Hall, Room 162.