England named Wolff Professor of Medicine

Sarah England, PhD, the newly installed Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Medicine, is pictured with (from left) Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine; George A. Macones, MD, the Mitchell and Elaine Yanow Professor and head of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. (Credit: MARK BEAVEN)

Sarah K. England, PhD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, has been named an inaugural Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

England was installed as the Wolff Professor 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 generosity of the Wolffs will enable Sarah England to remain at the forefront of research in obstetrics and gynecology,” Wrighton said. “Her work one day may help prevent preterm labor, which is the leading cause of deaths in newborns.”

Gifts from the Wolffs have provided funding for medical research at the university for more than 30 years, advancing work by leaders in numerous fields.

“Sarah England joins an extraordinary group of scientists who have become Wolff professors,” Shapiro said. “She is the kind of dedicated, accomplished researcher that Alan and Edith Wolff wanted to recognize and support.”

England’s work focuses on understanding how ions flow across membranes of cells in blood vessels and in the muscle layer of the uterus and whether this movement of ions alters how the uterus and blood vessels contract and relax during pregnancy. Among other benefits, her work aims to reduce the frequency of preterm labor, a problem that affects 12 percent of births in this country.

Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Heart Association, the March of Dimes and other federal and philanthropic agencies. At Washington University, she collaborates with scientists from many disciplines as a researcher for the Center for the Investigation of Membrane Excitability Diseases and as the associate director for the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center.


Before joining the Washington University faculty in 2011, England was a University of Iowa faculty member for 14 years. She was a professor of molecular biology and biophysics, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics.

“I am truly honored to receive an Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff professorship,” England said. “The Wolffs’ support of biomedical research and investigators at Washington University has helped promote new ideas and discoveries and left a profound legacy.”

England earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. She earned a doctorate in physiology from the Medical College of Wisconsin and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular physiology and biophysics at Vanderbilt University.

About the Wolffs

Alan and Edith Wolff owned Wolff Construction Co., a real-estate development, investment and management company. Alan Wolff founded the company in the 1940s and led it until his death in 1989. Edith Wolff then led the company as president until her death in 2008.

Over more than 30 years, the Wolffs directed funds to many areas of medical research at the School of Medicine. Their gifts have supported research in Alzheimer’s disease, heart transplant, bacterial sepsis, dermatology, cell biology and critical care medicine. They have provided for 13 endowed professorships, seven distinguished endowed professorships and specific research funds in cancer and ophthalmology.

Their donations also support the Edith L. Wolff Scholarship Loan Fund, a noninterest-bearing fund for medical students. In 2007, Edith Wolff committed $20 million to establish the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Institute at the School of Medicine to advance the most promising biomedical research projects focused on preventing, treating and curing disease.

In recognition of her generous support of medical research, Edith Wolff received numerous awards from Washington University, including the Robert S. Brookings Award, the Second Century Award from the School of Medicine and an honorary doctorate in 2004.

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.
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