Gereau named Brown professor of anesthesiology

Robert W. Gereau IV, PhD, has been named the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor of Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The professorship was announced by Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

The professorship honors Washington University alumni Seymour Brown, MD, a 1940 graduate of the School of Medicine who served for more than 40 years as chief of anesthesiology at what was then St. John’s Mercy Hospital, and his wife, Rose Brown, who graduated from WUSTL in 1936 with a bachelor’s degree in education and biology. After completing her degree, Mrs. Brown served on the editorial staff of C.V. Mosby Publishing Co., editing medical books and journals.

They married in 1941, and shortly after that, Seymour Brown served as a physician on a destroyer in World War II, where he lived through many legendary naval battles including the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal. During the latter battle, his ship was torpedoed and sunk. Later in his military career, Brown was named chief of anesthesiology at naval hospitals in Great Lakes, Ill., and Mare Island, Calif.

When Dr. Brown completed military service, the Browns moved to Boston, where he studied anesthesiology at the Lahey Clinic and Mrs. Brown worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, editing books.

When they returned to St. Louis, Dr. Brown worked briefly at Barnes Hospital before starting the anesthesiology program at St. John’s and joining the clinical teaching faculty at Saint Louis University, where he served for more than 30 years. He also served terms as president of the Missouri and the St. Louis societies of anesthesiology. Mrs. Brown assisted hearing-impaired students for 13 years and later worked as a real estate agent. She also volunteered at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center and at St. Luke’s Hospital for 20 years.

“Over the years, the Brown family’s generosity has helped fund scholarships for medical students, and this is one of two professorships the family established in anesthesiology,” Wrighton said. “The Browns also created an endowment for research in the Division of Gastroenterology in honor of their son, who was a gastroenterology resident here. We cannot thank the Browns enough for their extremely generous support.”

Dr. and Mrs. Brown were married for 65 years prior to Dr. Brown’s death in 2006. Mrs. Brown died in 2013. The couple had two sons, Alvin R. Brown, MD, and Donald E. Brown. Alvin Brown, who was a resident in gastroenterology at the School of Medicine, died in 2000. Donald Brown, an attorney, lives in Maryland with his wife and daughter.

In addition to his appointment in anesthesiology, Gereau also is a professor of anatomy and of neurobiology and is director of the Washington University Pain Center. He studies the molecular mechanisms involved in pain sensation, and his research includes basic laboratory work and translational studies of the pain response in people.

Most recently, Gereau’s laboratory has been involved in studies using optogenetics, which uses light signals to activate or deactivate nerve cells responsible for transmitting pain signals from the periphery to the brain. He is using tiny, light-emitting devices to map the molecular and cellular properties of neural circuits to better understand how those circuits transmit pain after nerve injury. Being able to visualize how the circuits connect and transmit pain signals could allow for the development of new treatments.

“Dr. Gereau’s work is at the forefront of pain research and is helping to better understand and alleviate chronic pain,” Shapiro said. “His efforts are vital to the development of new and more effective ways to treat the large numbers of patients with pain who could not previously be helped.”

Gereau graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology from what is now Missouri State University. He earned a doctorate in neuroscience from Emory University School of Medicine and then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies before he became an assistant professor in the Division of Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in 1998. He joined the Washington University faculty in 2004.

“Rob is a very talented scientist and a wonderful mentor for our residents, students and fellows,” said Alex S. Evers, MD, the Henry E. Mallinckrodt Professor and head of the Department of Anesthesiology. “His recent work using optogenetic techniques to turn pain signals on and off could lead to major breakthroughs in both the understanding and treatment of pain.”

(From left) Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, Robert W. Gereau IV, PhD, Alex S. Evers, MD, and Larry J. Shapiro, MD, celebrate Gereau’s installation as the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor of Anesthesiology. (Credit: Mark Beaven)

Gereau’s research has been supported continuously by National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the past 15 years, and he has served as a member and chair of multiple NIH study sections. He also serves on several editorial boards for scientific journals and is a member of the board of directors of the American Pain Society.

“The support from the Brown family for research in the Department of Anesthesiology has been tremendous,” Gereau said. “It is a great honor to receive this recognition for pain research, and I am very grateful to Don Brown and his family for their generosity in establishing this professorship. This support will help make our research effort more agile and innovative, and I hope it will help us to bring new treatments to the tens of millions of people who suffer with chronic pain.”

Gereau has authored 80 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 26 invited publications and has been invited to deliver 85 lectures. During his career, Gereau also has mentored 34 pre- and postdoctoral trainees, as well as nine undergraduates and five high school students. In 2011, he received the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award from the Washington University Graduate Student Senate. Among his other honors is a 2012 NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award for his efforts to treat pain using optogenetics.

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.