Seven faculty members named AAAS fellows

Seven Washington University in St. Louis faculty members have been named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

The newest fellows from WUSTL are: Michael Brent, PhD; Raj Jain, PhD; and Arye Nehorai, PhD; and School of Medicine faculty members Alison Goate, DPhil; Jeanne M. Nerbonne, PhD; D.C. Rao, PhD; and Barry Sleckman, MD, PhD. Members are given the rank of fellow, the highest honor awarded by AAAS, by their peers in recognition of scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.

The WUSTL faculty members are among 702 new fellows acknowledged in the Nov. 30 issue of Science magazine. The 2012 AAAS fellows also will be honored at a Feb. 16 ceremony at the organization’s annual meeting in Boston.


Michael Brent

The Henry Edwin Sever Professor of Engineering, Brent was lauded by his AAAS colleagues for development and application of innovative computational methods of genomic analysis, including methods for annotating exon-intron structures and for mapping and modeling regulatory networks. Brent’s work on computational methods for sequence analysis led to significant improvements in genome annotation technology, enhancing the value of genome sequences for the scientific community.

Brent’s lab, located in the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology, is now developing methods for mapping, modeling and engineering gene regulation networks. Brent and his students construct quantitative models of biological control networks that predict how modifications to the networks will affect network behavior. They are particularly interested in the dynamic properties of regulatory networks, such as response times and sensitivity to noise.

Members of the Brent lab have applied their modeling approaches to understanding how the availability of excess sugar leads to changes in the transcription rates of genes and how these transcriptional changes affect sugar metabolism. These studies focus on regulatory networks whose main features are conserved from yeast to humans. Brent also collaborates with members of the School of Medicine faculty on mapping regulatory networks involved in a variety of processes, such as how excess dietary sugar can lead to diabetes and how a disease-causing fungus builds a protective capsule around itself when it infects a human.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a PhD in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brent served as assistant and associate professor of cognitive science at the Johns Hopkins University, where his research focused on computational modeling of how children learn language.

He joined the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Washington University in 1999 and, in the early 2000s, changed his research focus to computational biology. In 2006, his lab moved to the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology on the Medical Campus.

Alison Goate


The Samuel & Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Genetics in

Psychiatry and director of the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders at the School of Medicine, Goate was praised by her colleagues for her work in the genetics of neuropsychiatric disease, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

She rose to international prominence while working in London at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, when she was the principal investigator on two major studies that uncovered the first genetic mutations that could be linked to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her work studying families with early-onset Alzheimer’s revealed that the APP (amyloid precursor protein) gene can, with a very minor mutation, change the way the brain processes amyloid-beta, the substance that builds up in the plaques that clog the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Since arriving at Washington University 20 years ago, her lab has continued to be a leader in genetic studies of neurodegenerative disease. Her lab was part of the team that first identified mutations in the tau protein in frontotemporal dementia and in the TDP43 protein in Lou Gehrig’s disease.

More recently, Goate’s laboratory has been using genome-wide association studies and genomic sequencing strategies to identify both rare and common gene variants that predispose patients to Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other neuropsychiatric disorders. She has focused, in particular, on the use of markers in the cerebrospinal fluid that help reveal how much amyloid beta has built up in the brain, as well as another protein marker of Alzheimer’s disease called tau.

Although her early studies focused on early-onset Alzheimer’s, another project in Goate’s laboratory involves the screening of more than 450 families affected by the more common, late-onset form of the disease, looking for genes that contribute to dementia. That work has shown that at least 5 percent of the families in the study have disease that is caused by mutations in genes that previously were associated with early-onset disease.

Just recently, Goate was part of a team that reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that rare variants within the TREM2 gene make one’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease two to three times more likely.

Goate also studies genetic risk for substance dependence. Her lab has been instrumental in identifying both common and rare variation in neuronal nicotinic receptor genes that influence smoking and alcohol dependence.

Raj Jain


A professor of computer science and engineering, Jain was praised as a professor and scientist for distinguished contributions to the field of computer networking impacting the areas of traffic management, performance modeling and wireless networking.

Jain is the author or editor of 10 books, including Art of Computer Systems Performance Analysis, which won the 1991 Best-Advanced How-to Book, Systems Award from the Computer Press Association and High Performance TCP/IP: Concepts, Issues, and Solutions, published by Prentice Hall in 2003.

He is a co-editor of Quality of Service Architectures for Wireless Networks: Performance Metrics and Management, published in 2010.

Previously, Jain was the chief technology officer and one of the co-founders of Nayna Networks Inc. – a next-generation telecommunications systems company in San Jose, Calif. He was a senior consulting engineer at Digital Equipment Corp. in Littleton, Mass., and then a professor of computer and information sciences at Ohio State University.

Jain has 14 patents and has written 15 book chapters, more than 55 journal and magazine articles and more than 95 conference papers. His papers have been widely referenced, and he is known for his research on congestion control and avoidance, traffic modeling, performance and error analysis. Google Scholar lists more than 15,000 citations of his publications.

He is a co-inventor of the DECbit scheme, which has been implemented in various forms in DECnet, OSI, Frame Relay and ATM Networks. His team has developed several switch algorithms for explicit rate-based congestion avoidance in ATM networks.

A distinguishing factor of his research is its relevance to the industry. As a faculty member, Jain actively participates in industry forums like WiMAX Forum, IEEE Standards Group, ATM Forum and Internet Engineering Task Force. He has made more than 200 contributions that ensured that his research was implemented, not just published. He was awarded the 1999 SiliconIndia Leadership Awards for Excellence and Promise in Business and Technology.

Jain earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from APS University in Rewa, India, a master’s degree in engineering (computer science and controls) from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and a PhD in applied math and computer science from Harvard University.

Arye Nehorai


The Eugene and Martha Lohman Professor and chair of the Preston M. Green Department of Electrical & Systems Engineering (ESE) was recognized for distinguished contributions to the field of statistical signal processing with broad applications and for academic leadership in electrical and systems engineering.

Nehorai is also a professor in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Studies and director of the Center for Sensor Signal and Information Processing at WUSTL. Previously, he was a faculty member at Yale University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Under his leadership as ESE chair, undergraduate enrollment has nearly tripled in the last four years.

From 2000-01, Nehorai served as editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Signal. From 2003-05 he was the vice president (publications), chair of the publications board, and a member of the Executive Committee of the IEEE Signal Processing Society (SPS). He was the founding editor of the special columns on leadership reflections in IEEE Signal Processing Magazine, which he edited from 2003-06.

Nehorai received the 2006 IEEE SPS Technical Achievement Award and the 2010 IEEE SPS Meritorious Service Award. He was elected distinguished lecturer of the IEEE SPS from 2004-05. He was a co-recipient of the IEEE SPS 1989 Senior Award for Best Paper, a co-author of the 2003 Young Author Best Paper Award and a co-recipient of the 2004 Signal Processing Magazine Paper Award.

In 2001, he was named university scholar of the University of Illinois. Nehorai was the principal investigator of the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative project titled “Adaptive Waveform Diversity for Full Spectral Dominance” from 2005 to 2010. He has been a fellow of the IEEE since 1994 and of the Royal Statistical Society since 1996.

He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Technion in Israel and a PhD from Stanford University.

Jeanne M. Nerbonne


The School of Medicine’s Alumni Endowed Professor of
Molecular Biology and Pharmacology, Nerbonne was lauded by her colleagues for her contributions to research and training in the molecular and cell biology of ion channels that control excitability in the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

Her research is focused on understanding the regulation of electrical activity of heart and nerve cells. Specifically, Nerbonne’s lab studies ion channels, structures that control the passage of electrically charged ions into and out of cells. These channels are vital to maintaining proper heart rhythm and rapid communication between nerve cells.

Nerbonne is recognized for pioneering efforts to identify the types of ion channels, particularly voltage-gated ion channels, expressed in different cells and tissues and for determining the molecular correlates of these channels and the mechanisms that control channel expression, distribution and functioning in cardiac and neuronal cells.

Flawed ion channels play roles in conditions as diverse as cystic fibrosis, epilepsy, migraines, diabetes and abnormal heart rhythms. To aid in the development of new treatments for such diseases, Nerbonne co-directs the Center for the Investigation of Membrane Excitability Diseases, which is a part of the School of Medicine’s BioMed 21 initiative.

Nerbonne also leads the Translational Cardiovascular Biobank and Repository (TCBR), funded in part by the Children’s Discovery Institute and the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS). The TCBR serves as a resource for investigators interested in studying heart and vascular conditions in adults and children.

Nerbonne also is recognized for her contributions to training predoctoral and postdoctoral fellows. She has been the director of the Cardiovascular Biology Training Program, supported by a training grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Nerbonne earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Framingham State College and a doctorate in physical organic chemistry from Georgetown University. She joined Washington University School of Medicine as an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology. She became a full professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology in 1997, and in 2002, she was named the Alumni Endowed Professor. She also has affiliations with the departments of Internal Medicine and Biomedical Engineering.

Nerbonne is the author of numerous scientific publications. She serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of General Physiology, Circulation Research and the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, and is an associate editor of The Journal of Neuroscience.

D.C. Rao


Director of the Division of Biostatistics since his arrival at
Washington University in 1980, Rao was honored by his colleagues for his contributions in the area of genetic epidemiology and human genetics, and for his work in training the next generation of statisticians and epidemiologists.

His research focuses on the statistical analysis of complex interactions between genes and the environment, with a particular interest in cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and complications from these conditions.

He is the principal investigator of several projects funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Under his leadership, Washington University serves as the Data Coordinating Center for several multi-center family and genetic studies including projects looking at the genetics of high blood pressure, how genes interact with dietary salt and affect blood pressure, and how genes affect the body’s cardiovascular, metabolic and hormonal responses to aerobic exercise. These projects employ genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and Next Generation Sequencing approaches.

Rao also is recognized for his work in training young epidemiologists and statisticians. He is director of the Genetic Epidemiology Masters of Science (GEMS) Training Program and the new master’s program in biostatistics. He is the recipient of postdoctoral training grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The funding supports up to four postdoctoral fellows per year who are training in genetic epidemiology of cardiovascular disease. He also leads the Summer Institute Program to Increase Diversity, a program designed to support researchers from minority groups that are under-represented in the sciences, including those with disabilities.

Rao earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in statistics and a doctorate in statistical genetics from the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata, India. Before coming to Washington University, he was a postdoctoral fellow in probability and statistics at the University of Sheffield, England, and then became a faculty member in the Population Genetics Laboratory at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

He has served as president of the International Genetic Epidemiology Society (IGES) and was the founding editor-in-chief of Genetic Epidemiology, the society’s journal. He has received an IGES Leadership Award and Champion of Public Health Award from Tulane University. He has authored nearly 600 scientific articles and co-authored six books. In addition to his positions as director and professor of biostatistics, he also holds appointments in the departments of Psychiatry, Genetics and Mathematics.

Barry Sleckman


The Conan Professor of Pathology and Immunology was
lauded by his peers for his work in the field of immunology and biochemistry, particularly for his pioneering research into how cells repair breaks in their DNA and how problems in these repair processes can contribute to cancer.

Immunologists showed decades ago that immune cells known as lymphocytes regularly break their own DNA and splice it together in new ways that help the immune system recognize and fight invaders. But if just one in 20 million breaks isn’t spliced together properly and the cell with the error fails to self-destruct, cancer can result. Sleckman’s lab was the first to demonstrate that self-induced DNA breaks also can serve as signals that activate genes unrelated to DNA repair but important for normal cell function and development.

In a 2008 paper published in Nature, he found that DNA breaks in lymphocytes activated genes that cause lymphocytes to travel from where they’re made in the bone marrow to where they’re needed to fight infection.

Sleckman also has produced surprising evidence that the best way to fix a DNA break may depend upon what phase of its life cycle a cell is in when its DNA breaks.

Sleckman was an instructor in medicine at Harvard, where he earned his medical degree and doctorate. He came to Washington University in 1998 as an assistant professor of pathology and immunology. He became associate professor of pathology and immunology in 2003 and has been the medical director of the Clinical Immunology Laboratory at the School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital since 2005. He became director of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine in 2008.

Sleckman is a frequent winner of School of Medicine teaching awards, including the Distinguished Service Teaching Award (2001, 2007), Professor of the Year (2003-2006), Elective Course of the Year (2006), and a Samuel R. Goldstein Leadership Award in Medical Student Education (2009).

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.