Jean Allman and Lilianna Solnica-Krezel will receive Washington University in St. Louis’ 2021 faculty achievement awards, Chancellor Andrew D. Martin announced.
Allman, PhD, the J.H. Hexter Professor in the Humanities and professor of African and African American studies, as well as director of the Center for the Humanities, all in Arts & Sciences, will receive the Arthur Holly Compton Faculty Achievement Award. Solnica-Krezel, PhD, the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Developmental Biology at the School of Medicine, will receive the Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award.
Martin also announced that Aaron DiAntonio, MD, PhD, and Jeffrey Milbrandt, MD, PhD, also at the School of Medicine, will receive the Chancellor’s Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“Jean Allman, Lila Solnica-Krezel, Aaron DiAntonio and Jeffrey Milbrandt are leaders in their respective fields,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said. “Their groundbreaking work — from exploring the legacies of segregation to understanding the earliest stages of development to designing better treatments for neurodegenerative diseases — is a strong testament to the value that research institutions such as ours bring to society.”
DiAntonio is the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Developmental Biology; Milbrandt is the James S. McDonnell Professor, head of the Department of Genetics, and executive director of the McDonnell Genome Institute.
Allman’s research and published work engages 20th-century African history, with a geographic focus on Ghana and thematic interests in gender, colonialism, decolonization and the racial politics of knowledge production. Her work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, Fulbright-Hays, the Social Science Research Council and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Allman’s publications include “The Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana, 1954-57” (1993); “’I Will Not Eat Stone’: A Women’s History of Colonial Asante” (with V. Tashjian, 2000) and “Tongnaab: The History of a West African God” (with J. Parker, 2005). She has edited several collections, including “Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress” (2004), and her work has appeared in a range of journals: Journal of African History; Africa, Gender and History; the Journal of Women’s History; History Workshop Journal; the International Journal of African Historical Studies; African Studies Review; the American Historical Review; and Souls.
Allman co-edits the “New African Histories” book series at Ohio University Press and for six years co-edited the Journal of Women’s History. She was president of the Ghana Studies Council (now Association) from 1992-98 and has served on the board of both the African Studies Association (USA) and the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora. She served as president of the African Studies Association in 2018.
Allman’s current research has been inspired by the #MustFall movements, which began in South Africa in 2015, and by calls for the decolonization of knowledge production. Most recently, it interrogates the whiteness of African studies in the U.S. and Europe and reconstructs the mechanisms through which “colonial knowledge” has been sustained and reproduced in “postcolonial” contexts, including in African institutions.
Since 2014, Allman has served as principal investigator (with Bruce Lindsey) for “The Divided City” and “The Divided City, 2022,” which explore the legacies of segregation locally and globally. She also serves as principal investigator for “Faculty for the Next Generation,” which explores new models of doctoral education. Both initiatives are supported by the Mellon Foundation.
Solnica-Krezel, also co-director of the university’s Center of Regenerative Medicine, is an internationally known leader in the field of developmental biology with a focus on understanding the earliest stages of embryonic development. She studies a process — called gastrulation — by which an embryo transitions from a single layer of cells into a 3D structure with multiple layers that will give rise to the various types of cells that make up the body. Gastrulation happens very early after an egg is fertilized, making it challenging to study in people or even mammals.
For this reason, Solnica-Krezel applies genetic approaches in zebrafish as a model organism for understanding how the tissue layers and rudimentary organs begin to take shape in the early embryo. Zebrafish embryos are transparent and develop outside the body, making them ideal for observing growth and development.
Her lab also conducts studies of human pluripotent stem cell lines to see if the details of the process in zebrafish are also relevant in human diseases and development. Her research sheds light on the origins of miscarriage, premature birth, cancer and many other genetic disorders.
Solnica-Krezel co-led efforts to found the regenerative medicine center, which cultivates collaborations among diverse researchers studying the biology of stem cells, cell and tissue engineering, developmental biology and aging. She also spearheaded efforts to build the School of Medicine’s state-of-the-art zebrafish facility, which has provided more labs with access to zebrafish for their research projects and fostered a vibrant zebrafish research community.
Solnica-Krezel has been honored with the Nüsslein-Volhard Award by the European Zebrafish Society for outstanding achievements in zebrafish research. She also has served as president of the Society for Developmental Biology. She serves as president-elect of the International Zebrafish Society; her term as president begins July 1.
Solnica-Krezel earned a master’s degree in molecular biology from Warsaw University, Poland, and later a doctoral degree in oncology from the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She came to Washington University School of Medicine in 2010 to lead the Department of Developmental Biology.
DiAntonio and Milbrandt
DiAntonio and Milbrandt co-founded a startup biotechnology company called Disarm Therapeutics with a focus on developing treatments for neurodegenerative diseases. Global pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly and Company recently acquired Disarm, with the goal of speeding development of new therapies for a variety of devastating neurological conditions caused by the deterioration of axons, the vital wiring of the nervous system. Axonal deterioration plays a role in diseases as diverse as peripheral neuropathy, glaucoma, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease.
Milbrandt and DiAntonio’s research has shown that a single molecule called SARM1 is responsible for triggering a self-destruct mechanism that results in axon deterioration. They founded Disarm to develop treatments, including new drugs, that could block this process and prevent the axon damage. Milbrandt and DiAntonio also developed a gene therapy approach to inhibit SARM1 that has been licensed to a major gene therapy company.
To help bring these potential new therapies to clinical trials in patients, Milbrandt and DiAntonio worked with the Office of Technology Management and received funding from the university’s Leadership and Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program.
Milbrandt, also a professor of pathology and immunology, of medicine and of neurology, earned his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine and later earned a doctoral degree in biochemistry from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, where he also completed his residency in pathology. He joined the faculty of Washington University in 1983 and has remained for his entire career. Milbrandt leads both the Department of Genetics and the McDonnell Genome Institute, where he recently helped spearhead the development of a quick, easy-to-use saliva-based test for COVID-19.
DiAntonio earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard College, a master’s in biochemistry from Cambridge University, and a medical degree and a doctorate in molecular and cellular physiology from Stanford University. He continued his training as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the faculty of Washington University School of Medicine in 1999.