FRONTRUNNERS — Spring 2008
   

 
(Left to right) Moira Pyle, doctoral student in earth & planetary sciences; Douglas Wiens, professor of earth & planetary sciences; David Heeszel, graduate student in earth & planetary sciences; and Patrick Shore, a lecturer and computer specialist in earth & planetary sciences, check out the equipment they took with them to unexplored regions of Antarctica.

Remote Parts of Antarctica Get Seismographs
A team of University seismologists, led by Douglas A. Wiens, professor of earth & planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, traveled to remote regions of Antarctica in December 2007 to place seismographs. The goal was to learn about the earth beneath the ice and glean information about glaciers, mountains, and ice streams.

The location of their field camp, AGAP South, had never before been visited by humans.

It was summer in Antarctica when the team went, with temperatures maxing out at 30 below zero Fahrenheit. The researchers stayed in a heated tent at their base camp 400 miles from the nearest civilization, South Pole base, and about 3,000 miles from New Zealand.

During the two-month study, Wiens and the group installed 10 seismographs each in the east and west parts of Antarctica, with an additional 20 instruments to be placed in 2008 in a return trip.

Seismographs can detect sudden motion of ice streams, which are like rivers of ice as much as 80 miles wide, to help understand what controls their motion.

Wiens says that simulations show that the ice sheet in west Antarctica could fall apart if the Earth warms up, flooding coastal cities around the world.

The team’s findings will help them understand the impact global warming will have in Antarctica.


During a news conference, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton (center), along with Jennifer T. Sisto, speaker of the Congress of the South 40, and Neil K. Patel, Student Union president, announces that Washington University will host the 2008 vice presidential debate.

Washington University to Host Vice Presidential Debate
Calling it “one of the great traditions of Washington University,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton announced during a news conference November 19, 2007, that the University will host the 2008 vice presidential debate, scheduled for 8 p.m. CDT on October 2, 2008.

This is the fifth consecutive time the University has been selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to host a debate. Washington University is the only institution to host more than two debates.

The University hosted a presidential debate in 1992, 2000, and 2004 and was selected to host a presidential debate in 1996 that eventually was canceled.

“It is a privilege once again to play an important role in the American electoral process and to be chosen from among 19 applicants to be one of the hosts and the site of the only vice presidential debate for the 2008 election season,” Wrighton says.

The debate, to be held in the Field House, will focus on domestic and foreign policy and will be administered by a single moderator.

“These one-of-a-kind events are great experiences for our students, they contribute to a national understanding of important issues, and they allow us to bring national and international attention to our great community,” Wrighton says.


Cholesterol Metabolism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease
Although the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not completely understood, amyloid-beta (A-beta) is widely considered a likely culprit—the “sticky” protein clumps into plaques thought to harm brain cells.

But now School of Medicine researchers have uncovered evidence strengthening the case for another potential cause of Alzheimer’s. The finding also represents the first time scientists have found a connection between early and late onset Alzheimer’s disease.

In a study published in the October 4, 2007, issue of the journal Neuron, the scientists report that when A-beta is made, a small bit of protein is released that can regulate cholesterol levels in the brain. The discovery adds weight to the theory that abnormal brain cholesterol metabolism plays a role in the mental decline seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

“There is strong evidence that cholesterol is important for synaptic function and is an essential component of cell membranes in the brain, and I believe partial defects in the regulation of cholesterol metabolism in the brain likely contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s,” says senior author Guojun Bu, professor of pediatrics and of cell biology and physiology in the School of Medicine.

In the current study, Bu and colleagues found that an aspect of cholesterol transport and metabolism in the brain was a link between early and late-onset Alzheimer’s. Both forms of the disease result in similar brain lesions and symptoms, suggesting they share underlying mechanisms. But until now, no one has been able to identify such a mechanism.


Professors Larry A. Taber (left) and Philip Bayly employ a microindentation device to measure the mechanical properties of embryonic hearts and brains.

Engineers Study Folding in Higher Mammalian Brains
Engineers at Washington University are finding common ground between the shaping of the brain and the heart during embryonic development.

Larry A. Taber, the Dennis and Barbara Kessler Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Philip Bayly, the Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are examining mechanical and developmental processes that occur in the folding of the brain’s surface, or cortex, which gives the higher mammalian brain more surface area (and hence more intellectual capacity) than a brain of comparable volume with a smooth surface.

Folding is very important in human brain development because some of the worst neurological problems such as schizophrenia, autism, and lissenchephaly (smoothness of the cortex, found with severe retardation) are associated with abnormal brain folding. The researchers hope that increased understanding of brain folding might someday help prevent such diseases from occurring.

According to Taber, the heart and the brain both begin as simple tubes that eventually develop in totally different ways. While folding is important in brain development, looping occurs in heart development, where the tubular heart bends and rotates in a precise manner.

“We’re not sure of the similarities between heart looping and brain folding,” Taber says. “But there are only a handful of processes that cells use to create shape and form in the embryo. Developing brain and heart cells have the same basic tool set, but somehow they integrate them in different ways. We’re concerned primarily with the mechanics of how these organs are constructed.”


Maestro Leonard Slatkin conducts “Piano Extravaganza” on October 28, 2007, to celebrate the opening of the 560 Music Center.

560 Music Center Opens with ‘Piano Extravaganza’
Acclaimed conductor Leonard Slatkin—music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and conductor laureate of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra—led more than a dozen pianists on October 28, 2007, as part of “Piano Extravaganza.” The concert, organized by the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, marked the formal opening of the University’s newly renovated 560 Music Center located in University City.

The event, which was held in the E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall, featured the premiere of “All Hands on Dec,” an original composition for 10 pianists by Martin Kennedy, assistant professor of music, as well as works by Richard Wagner, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz von Suppé, Edvard Grieg, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Francis Poulenc, and John Philip Sousa.


Women’s basketball head coach Nancy Fahey talks to junior guard Halsey Ward during the finals of the McWilliams Tournament. Fahey recorded her 500th win during this game.

Athletics Scores Top Spot in Directors’ Cup Fall Standings
Washington University’s Department of Athletics finished first in the 2007–2008 U.S. Sports Academy Directors’ Cup Division III final fall standings, as announced December 20, 2007, by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), the U.S. Sports Academy, and USA Today.

At the time, the University led the NCAA Division III institutions with 322 points. In the fall, Washington U. picked up its Division III-record ninth volleyball title and placed third in women’s cross country, sixth in men’s soccer, and ninth in women’s soccer to take over the top spot.

This marked the first time in school history Washington University has led the Directors’ Cup. Washington U. finished in fifth place in 2006–2007, marking the Bears fifth-straight top-10 finish. The third-place showing in 2004–2005 was the highest finish in school history in the Directors’ Cup.

The final winter standings will be announced April 3, 2008. The success of both men’s and women’s basketball thus far should help keep the Bears’ standings high in the Directors’ Cup. Both teams were ranked No. 1 preseason for NCAA Division III. On November 24, 2007, women’s basketball head coach Nancy Fahey picked up the 500th win of her career against Kenyon College in the Seventh Annual McWilliams Classic.

Final spring standings will be announced June 11, 2008.


Autism Symptoms Can Improve in Adulthood
Hallmarks of autism are characteristic behaviors—repetitive motions, problems interacting with others, impaired communication abilities—that occur in widely different combinations and degrees of severity among those who have the condition.

But how those behaviors change as individuals progress through adolescence and adulthood has, until now, never been fully scientifically documented. In a new study, published in the September 2007 Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers have found that symptoms can improve with age.

“On average, people are getting better,” says Paul T. Shattuck, assistant professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, who worked on the study as a graduate student and postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Waisman Center and is the first author of the paper.

The paper reported on changes in broad categories of typical autistic symptoms: impaired verbal and nonverbal communication, impaired social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. Within those broad categories, changes across 32 specific symptoms ranging from reciprocal conversation and interest in people to compulsions and rituals were measured. Also examined were broader maladaptive behaviors such as aggression and self-injury that are not specific to autism. Across all categories, the proportion of study participants who improved was larger than the proportion that worsened.


Detail: Barcelona: Tourist Information Center by John Brok Howard, M.Arch. ‘06.

Architecture Ranked Among Top Five
Washington University’s Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, has been ranked fifth in the nation by Architect magazine in its first annual education survey.

The survey, published in the November 2007 issue, examined 117 programs recognized by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. WUSTL tied for fifth with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia, and was ranked first in the Midwest.

“This ranking reflects the strong contributions that our graduates are making to the practice of architecture,” says Bruce Lindsey, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design and the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration. “It’s a powerful testament to the impact of our young alumni.”

The survey polled directors of design, managing principals, and human resource directors from hundreds of leading U.S. architecture firms about which programs had produced the most professional, best-prepared graduates over the past five years. It also queried participants about how programs rated in various skill sets.


Judy Pfaff, Neither Here Nor There, installation detail, 2003.

Acclaimed Artist and Alumna Judy Pfaff Visits Campus
Judy Pfaff, B.F.A. ’71, is one of the most celebrated artists of her generation, known for large-scale installations that combine local materials with elements of painting, sculpture, and architecture.

On October 11, 2007, Pfaff discussed her work as part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ fall Visiting Artist Lecture Series.

Pfaff incorporates both found and fabricated elements—ranging from steel, fiberglass, and driftwood to vines, blown glass, and neon-colored string—to create elaborate structures. The feeling is at once transparent and densely packed, as if the viewer had physically entered a painting or drawing.

Today Pfaff’s work can be found in such prestigious collections as the Detroit Institute of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Pfaff serves as professor and co-chair of art at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and as artist-in-residence at the Hui Noieau Visual Arts Center in Maui, Hawaii. See magazine.wustl.edu/Fall05/JudyPfaff.


Patient Care Focus of New Institute
As part of a national effort to translate basic science discoveries into treatments and cures for patients more quickly, Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis will lead a regional group of institutions under a new $50 million, five-year grant program from the National Institutes of Health that will greatly enhance clinical and translational research.

“This grant creates a comprehensive approach that will benefit patients by bringing together basic research scientists and clinical researchers as well as health-care and commercial institutions in a coordinated system dedicated to improving patient care,” says program principal investigator Kenneth S. Polonsky, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Milliken Department of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine.

The Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences (ICTS) created by the grant is a collaboration among several regional institutions including Washington University; BJC HealthCare; Saint Louis University School of Public Health, Doisy College of Health Sciences, and Center for HealthCare Ethics; the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Nursing; Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville School of Nursing; and St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

“The ICTS will radically improve clinical studies at our institutions,” Polonsky says. “The program will allow investigators to collaborate more easily across departmental and institutional boundaries and take full advantage of local and regional resources. These broad-based interactions are unprecedented and in time will transform the way in which clinical research and training are conducted.”

The ICTS complements Washington University’s BioMed 21 initiative, a strategic program begun in 2003 to facilitate multidisciplinary, collaborative research and rapidly apply breakthroughs to patient care.


Pig cells stain for insulin (red) in a mesenteric lymph node from a transplanted diabetic rhesus macaque monkey.

Pig Pancreatic Cells Show Promise for Treating Diabetes
With an eye on improving treatment for diabetes, School of Medicine scientists have successfully transplanted embryonic pig pancreatic cells destined to produce insulin into diabetic macaque monkeys—all without the need for risky immune suppression drugs that prevent rejection.

The transplanted cells (primordia) were in the earliest stages of developing into pancreatic tissues. Within several weeks of the transplants, the cells became engrafted, or established, within the three rhesus macaque monkeys that received them. The cells also released pig insulin in response to rising blood glucose levels, as would be expected in healthy animals and humans.

“The approach reduced the animals’ need for insulin injections and has promise for curing diabetes in humans,” says senior investigator Marc Hammerman, the Chromalloy Professor of Renal Diseases in Medicine. “The transplants worked without a need for immune suppression, and that is a major obstacle we have overcome.”

Although the transplants did not produce sufficient insulin to cure the macaques’ diabetes, Hammerman predicts that with additional research, he will be able to reduce the macaques’ need for insulin injections.

The researchers will now determine how best to eliminate the need for injected insulin in the macaques that receive transplants, thus demonstrating long-term effectiveness of the technique, and establish the safety of pancreatic primordia transplants. If these experiments succeed, the researchers plan to conduct clinical trials in humans with diabetes.

“We hope to find out how to apply our findings to human type 1 and type 2 diabetics because the embryonic pig primordia would represent an unlimited source of tissue for transplantation,” Hammerman says.


A.J. Singletary (with headband), Arts & Sciences Class of ’08, teaches environmental science to students at Pai Junior College, located in the village of Kalleda, in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Indian Village Serves as Backdrop for Service Learning
Six Washington University undergraduate students spent summer 2007 in India, teaching English to high school students and conducting research projects. The trip, part of the Village India Program, was led by Glenn Stone, professor of anthropology and of environmental studies, both in Arts & Sciences.

“It was an amazing trip,” Stone says. “The students had a wonderful time. They were able to increase the Indian students’ understanding of the English language, as well as advance their own research by doing projects with the students. They learned a lot about India and about village life in a developing area.”

The WUSTL students lived and taught at Pai Junior College, a new school in the village of Kalleda, a town of 2,000 people. They worked with the Indian students on a variety of projects, including video blogging, environmental studies, and creative writing.

Stone is planning another trip for summer 2008 that will focus on the arts—mainly video and photography—and would like to make the Village India Program a permanent study-abroad destination. For more information, visit artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/RDF/vip.


(Left to right) Rebecca Tucker and John Ludeke, both Business Class of ’08, traveled to Las Vegas in October 2007 with Carol Johanek, adjunct professor of marketing at Olin, to receive a Globes Award for their marketing plan to curb childhood obesity.

Olin Students Win International Marketing Competition
Two Olin Business School students won the top prize in an international marketing plan competition. John Ludeke and Rebecca Tucker, both Business Class of ’08, were recognized for their marketing plan to curb childhood obesity in a ceremony October 15, 2007, at the Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide (MAA) Globes Awards ceremony in Las Vegas.

The students beat out entrants from 17 different countries with their plan to combat childhood obesity aggressively in American children. The marketing plan, titled “Come Out and Play,” engaged children, parents, and the community in preventing childhood obesity and included activities in schools, celebrity involvement, and corporate sponsorship.

Carol Johanek, adjunct professor of marketing at the Olin Business School, supported the student team as they worked all summer on the plan.

Johanek says that the competition presented a multifaceted opportunity.

“The students get exposed not only to marketing and promotion agencies, but to the top-level officers in those agencies,” Johanek says. “The students see how the agency world works, and it gives agencies the opportunity to get to know some really bright students.”

The Globes trophy was awarded to Washington University, and Ludeke and Tucker received a Globes certificate.


Earl Banez, computer specialist at Olin Business School, gives blood with Tiana Butler from the American Red Cross.

Blood Drive Sets New Record
The University held its first University-wide blood drive on September 11, 2007, featuring 12 locations spanning the Danforth, West, North, and Medical campuses. The University previously collected about 600 productive units of blood per academic year. With the overhauled blood-drive system, more than 1,000 productive units of blood were collected in the 2007 fall semester alone.

The blood drives are sponsored by the Community Service Office, in collaboration with the American Red Cross and the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center. According to the Red Cross, just one donation of blood can save up to three lives.


Owen Sexton, professor emeritus of biology, holds a fox snake at Marais Temps Clair in St. Charles County, Missouri.

Saving Snakes Devastated by Floods
Ecologist Owen Sexton, professor emeritus of biology in Arts & Sciences, had just completed a census of snakes at Marais Temps Clair, a conservation preserve northwest of St. Louis, when the flood of 1993 deluged the area, putting the preserve at least 15 feet under water.

The flood provided Sexton with a rare opportunity: His collected data and the flood would combine to make “the perfect study” of how an area rebounds from a natural disaster.

He went back the following year and found that the flood had displaced or killed 70 percent of the pre-flood population of five snake species, and either eliminated the populations of three other species or left the populations so low that they could not be detected.

Key to survival? Size. The bigger the snake, the better chance for survival, Sexton found, and arboreal species—those that hang out in trees—fared better than (surprise) aquatic ones.

Sexton proposes that “islands” of displaced soil be constructed in the conservation area that would serve as sanctuaries during subsequent floods. Such a natural “lifeboat” would serve as a temporary shelter for members of resident species of snakes and other fauna, as well as a landfall for resident and non-resident species swept downstream.

“Any kind of high ground can save lives,” Sexton says. “When you see all the soil that is moved to make a road, to build homes and malls, you think the soil has to be dispersed some place. If we could get a program together to reward contractors to bring that excess soil to flood-prone refuges, such as Marais Temps Clair, and pile up several mounds of earth that would be at least 15 feet above the top of the levees, we’d allow more snakes and other species to survive future major floods and keep healthy populations at Marais Temps Clair.”


Honors & Recognition
Four faculty members were named to endowed professorships: Wendy Auslander, professor of social work, as the Barbara A. Bailey Professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work; Peter Humphrey, professor of pathology and immunology, as the Ladenson Professor of Pathology in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at the medical school; Himadri B. Pakrasi, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences and professor of energy in the School of Engineering, as the George William and Irene Koechig Freiberg Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences; and Werner Ploberger, professor of economics, as the Thomas H. Eliot Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Six School of Medicine faculty were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Stephen M. Beverley, the Marvin A. Brennecke Professor and head of the Department of Molecular Microbiology, was elected to the Section on Biological Sciences; Jonathan D. Gitlin, the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics, professor of genetics and of pathology and immunology, was elected to the Section on Medical Sciences; Eduardo A. Groisman, professor of molecular microbiology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in Molecular Microbiology, was elected to the Section on Medical Sciences; John E. Heuser, professor of cell biology and physiology, was elected to the Section on Neuroscience; Robert P. Mecham, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology, professor of pediatrics and of medicine, was elected to the Section on Biological Sciences; and Helen M. Piwnica-Worms, professor of cell biology and physiology, professor of medicine, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in Cell Biology and Physiology, was elected to the Section on Biological Sciences.

Carl M. Bender, the Wilfred R. and Ann Lee Konneker Distinguished Professor of Physics in Arts & Sciences, received the Arthur Holly Compton Faculty Achievement Award.

Jill Carnaghi, director of campus life and assistant vice chancellor for students, received the 2007 Richard Caple Professional Award from the Missouri College Personnel Association.

William H. Gass, the David May Distinguished University Professor Emeritus in the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, received the 2007 Saint Louis Literary Award.

Susan Mackinnon, the Sydney M. Shoenberg, Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Professor of Surgery and chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Stephen H. Petersen was appointed assistant vice chancellor for alumni relations in Alumni & Development Programs.

Helen M. Piwnica-Worms, professor of cell biology and physiology and of internal medicine, received the Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award.

Peter H. Raven, the George Englemann Professor of Botany, received the Addison Emery Verrill Medal from the Peabody Museum.

Andrey Shaw, the Emil R. Unanue Professor of Immunology, was named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

William T. Shearer, M.D. ’70, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, was elected as a member of the Board of Trustees at Washington University.

Richard Smith, the Ralph E. Morrow Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology in Arts & Sciences, will become dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences July 1, 2008, when Robert E. Thach, dean since 1993, steps down.

Henry S. Webber, former vice president for community and government affairs at the University of Chicago, became WUSTL’s executive vice chancellor for administration March 1, 2008.