Andrew S. Yoo, PhD, a researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor given by the U.S. government to independent researchers early in their careers. President Barack Obama named 102 investigators to receive the honor, which will be awarded in 2014 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Yoo, assistant professor of developmental biology, is known for his work in identifying the function of small RNA molecules known as microRNAs in controlling the packaging of the genome and the reprogramming of cell fates. Specifically, Yoo’s lab has shown that human skin cells can be instructed to become brain cells using microRNAs.
The Early Career Award was established in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. It honors scientists and engineers who pursue innovative research in their fields and serve their community through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach.
Research in Yoo’s lab is funded by the Mallinckrodt Foundation, the Ellison Medical Foundation and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Last year he received a $2.3 million NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to continue investigating cell fate conversion. His research team is working to find ways to transform skin cells into specific types of brain cells, and to test how well brain cells grown in the lab function in animal models. The work may lead to better ways to help patients with neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s or Parkinson’s disease.
Yoo came to Washington University School of Medicine in 2011 after a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. He earned a doctorate in 2005 from Columbia University in cellular, molecular and biophysical studies. In addition to the presidential award, he has received numerous honors for his research, including a Helen Hay Whitney Foundation Fellowship, a Mallinckrodt Foundation New Investigator Award and an Ellison Medical Foundation New Investigator in Aging Award.
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.