At Washington University School of Medicine, every day is a day of discovery. The scope of work that transpires in any 24-hour period to advance human health — in research, training and patient care — is inspiring and consequential. Across disciplines, physician-scientists are looking at genetic clues, working to solve some of medicines toughest puzzles: cancer, addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and so much more.
The School of Medicine is a place with a long tradition in immunology and microbiology, and researchers in those areas are working to develop vaccines for cancer and treatments for emerging infections, autoimmune disorders and antibiotic resistance. Further, researchers are working to understand malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and other conditions by delving deeply into the microbiome. The medical school, with the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, also has a long tradition of being a leader in imaging sciences, from the development of the PET scanner to evaluate organ and tissue function in the 1970s to the use of high-tech glasses to help spot cancer cells today.
A key contributor to the Human Genome Project, the school is going beyond describing genes and how they vary to understanding how to develop better diagnostics and therapeutics to address disease-generating variations in a personalized way.
According to David H. Perlmutter, MD, the inaugural George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine and the executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, over the last two decades, the medical school actually has been a part of two campaigns: “I am using the word campaign in two different ways,” Perlmutter says. “There is an ongoing campaign for determining whether something really is a cause of a disease; the other campaign has been to secure the financial resources necessary to make this important work possible. Thanks to the generosity of those who supported Leading Together, the school has made progress on both fronts.”
Through funding important centers — the McDonnell Genome Institute, the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology, and the Genome Engineering and iPSC Center, all in the Debra and George W. Couch III Biomedical Research Building; the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs; the National Cancer Institute–recognized Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center; and others — Leading Together allows the School of Medicine to support the scientific leaders making progress on these complex medical challenges.
Here, take a glimpse at some of the important work happening on any given day at this busy, vital place.
Sarah K. England, PhD, is the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Medicine and professor of cell biology and physiology. She is considered one of the premier authorities on the molecular mechanisms underlying uterine function during pregnancy. Specifically, her research focuses on understanding the role of ion channels in modulating uterine activity in women with pre-term labor, with the goal of developing better therapeutic targets. Here, she confers with staff scientist Ronald T. McCarthy in her lab in the BJC Institute of Health at Washington University School of Medicine. Photo by Matt Miller
Robert D. Schreiber, PhD, the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Distinguished Professor and professor of molecular microbiology, is director of the Andrew M. and Jane M. Bursky Center for Human Immunology and Immunotherapy Programs, where basic, translational and clinical aspects of human immunology and immunotherapy research are seamlessly integrated. Key areas of research include infectious disease and vaccines, immune dysfunction, and the immune system’s role in cancer. He and center collab-orators have pioneered the use of genomic approaches in major translational programs that test the therapeutic efficacy of personalized vaccines in patients with cancers of the breast, brain, lung, pancreas, prostate, skin and lympathic system. Here, Schreiber works with postdoctoral research fellow Elise J.O. Alspach, PhD, at the BJC Institute of Health. Photo by Matt Miller
Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor has, over the past 20 years, revolutionized understanding of the vital functions that our gut microbial communities play in shaping human health and disease. Gordon directs the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology, where investigators are making key contributions to advancing human microbiome research. Carrie Cowardin, PhD (right of Gordon), and Vanderlene Kung, MD, PhD (right of Cowardin), are among the postdoctoral research scholars in Gordon’s lab. Gordon has trained more than 130 students and postdocs, a number of whom have become leaders in the field. Photo by James Byard
Deanna M. Barch, PhD, the Gregory B. Couch Professor of Psychiatry and chair of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, is a leading researcher on the role of cognition, emotion and brain function in illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia. She uses functional MRI, structural MRI and cognitive neuroscience methods to examine the neural basis of risk for the development of these illnesses, potentially as a means of developing better preventive approaches. Her work includes a focus on the ways in which early adversities (stress, poverty and disparities in access to health care) shape early brain development and subsequent risk for mental-health challenges. Here, Barch confers with Joan Luby, MD (at left), the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Child Psychiatry and director of the Early Emotional Development Program. Photo by James Byard
Lilianna (Lila) Solnica-Krezel, PhD, is the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor, head of the Department of Developmental Biology, and co-director of the Center of Regenerative Medicine. In Washington University’s zebrafish facility, one of the largest and most modern facilities in the world, Solnica-Krezel and others conduct large-scale, collaborative projects that help scientists understand human development and disease, from birth defects and cancer to musculoskeletal and nerve disorders. A common type of minnow, the zebrafish is popular in both scientific research and home aquariums. Zebrafish embryos are transparent and develop outside the mother’s body, making them useful for observing growth and development. Photo by James Byard
William G. Hawkins, MD, FACS (center), the Neidorff Family and Robert C. Packman Professor of Surgery, is chief of the Section of Hepatobiliary-Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Surgery. A noted pancreatic cancer surgeon at Siteman Cancer Center, in 2016, he and other researchers and physicians at Siteman were awarded a five-year, $10.4 million National Cancer Institute grant to lead a national group of experts in collaborative pancreatic cancer research. The award, a prestigious Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant, will help scientists pursue new treatments for the deadliest form of the disease, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, including development of more effective chemotherapies and a vaccine. Each year at the School of Medicine, Hawkins hosts a group of survivors of pancreatic cancer, such as Harry Stern and Edie Cornell-Smith, for a day of lectures and sessions on the latest developments in the field. Photo by Matt Miller
Laura J. Bierut, MD ’87, HS ’91, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatry, is a physician-scientist with expertise in genetic studies of smoking behaviors, addiction, and other psychiatric and medical illnesses. She is an active member in the National Institute on Drug Abuse Genetics Consortium, a group of scientists leading efforts to understand genetic causes of substance-use disorders. She has led large, collaborative projects through the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Cancer Institute to discover genetic roots related to susceptibility to addiction. Through these projects, thousands of research participants from St. Louis have been interviewed and have given blood samples for genetic discovery. Now, she is working to translate this knowledge into action to reduce smoking and other addictions. At Barnes-Jewish Hospital, Bierut (left) is working with clinical nurse specialists, such as Ann Petlin (center) and Carrie Sona, to develop nursing-led smoking cessation programs for hospitalized patients. Photo by James Byard
Gautam Dantas, PhD (right), professor of pathology and immunology, of biomedical engineering, and of molecular microbiology at the medical school, is recognized for his outstanding contributions to graduate student teaching and mentoring. Dantas leads an interdisciplinary team of basic scientists, engineers and clinicians focused on understanding antibiotic resistance, designing novel antibiotic and probiotic therapies, and engineering microbial catalysts. Their work has been published in top journals and yielded many patents. Dantas is co-director of the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences’ Computational and Systems Biology graduate program. Over the past nine years, he has mentored 10 postdocs, 20 graduate students, five research technicians, and more than 50 high school and undergraduate interns in his laboratory. Photo by Matt Miller
Helen McNeill, PhD (center), professor of developmental biology, was recently named the inaugural holder of the Larry J. and Carol A. Shapiro Professor at the School of Medicine. Here, McNeill works in her lab with Alex Fulford, PhD (left), a postdoctoral research associate, and Megan Glaeser, a research technician, to understand how tissue growth and tissue organization are coordinately regulated during normal development, and how loss of this control leads to human disease. McNeill, whose work in developmental biology spans birth defects to cancer, was also the first researcher named a BJC Investigator. The new BJC Investigators Program aims to recruit scientists who bring innovative approaches to major biological quandaries. Inspired by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s philosophy of investing in people with exceptional creative talent, the BJC Investigators Program plans to bring 10 renowned researchers to the medical school and the life sciences ecosystem of St. Louis. Photo by Matt Miller
Randall J. Bateman, MD, BSBES ’95, BSEE ’95, HS ’04, is the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology. As director of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit (DIAN-TU), he launched the world’s first clinical trials for at-risk families with autosomal-dominant Alzheimer’s disease (ADAD). The interventional therapeutic trials focus on drugs that could potentially change the course of the disease. Here, Bateman meets with trial participants and sisters, Rachel Habiger (left) and Taylor Hutton (not pictured), whose mother died from complications of Alzheimer’s. Participants in the trial either know they have an Alzheimer’s disease–causing mutation or are unaware of their genetic status yet have a 50 percent chance of having an ADAD mutation. Photo by Matt Miller