|FRONTRUNNERS Summer 2001|
Chronic-pain Study Provides Clues for Treatment
School of Medicine investigators have found that the protein called NR2B, which allows nerve cells to communicate, makes mice more aware of minor pain for longer periods of time. "So interfering with NR2B in humans might be a strategy for treating chronic pain," says principal investigator Min Zhuo, associate professor of anesthesiology and of anatomy and neurobiology.
The researchers-Feng Wei and Guo-Du Wang, anesthesiology fellows; Geoffrey Kerchner, M.D./Ph.D. student; and Zhou-Feng Chen, assistant professor of anesthesiologyfound that mice genetically altered to make extra NR2B in forebrain areas seemed to have stronger or longer periods of behavioral responses to persistent, inflammatory pain.
Many current pain-reducing drugs block persistent-pain receptors, but they also block acute-pain receptors, which could have dangerous results, such as not feeling the pain from touching a hot stove.
"Our study has provided a target for the development of drugs highly selective for persistent pain, while leaving the rest of the pain system intact," Zhuo says.
Present and Future Philanthropists
Before her lecture, "Philanthropy in the 21st Century,"
Susan V. Berresford, president of the Ford Foundation, met with undergraduate
students interested in careers in philanthropy. Her presentation on
February 8 was at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. The
Ford Foundation, with assets of more than $14 billion, is supporting
pioneering research at the School's Center for Social Development on
helping the poor break the cycle of poverty by making personal savings
"Baby Talk" Helps Babies Learn Language
When babies hear their mothers say things like "Pretty baby," their brains, perhaps equipped with perfect pitch, busily process every sound for patterns and meaning, according to Michael Brent, associate professor of computer science. A team working with Brent and colleague Jeffrey Siskind of the NEC Institute of Princeton, N.J., recorded more than 200 hours of mothers' baby talk to their children when they were between 9 and 15 months old. Their findings showed that the instinctive, short, vibrant words of parental "baby talk" are key to language development.
"Short utterances lay bare the structure of language," Brent says. His findings challenge recent language acquisition theory, which suggests that babies learn words as part of long strings of words.
Brent's research also is important because it may fuel advances in speech-recognition technology in computers, may help scientists in the field of "artificial intelligence" design computers that can analyze the grammar of an unknown language, and may be applied in computational biology to analyze DNA sequencing.
Human Genome Map Published by Consortium
On February 12, the International Human Genome Project, a public consortium including the medical school's Genome Sequencing Center, announced that it had assembled and published a nearly completed physical map of the human genomethe genetic blueprint for a human being.
By organizing the genome map and contributing more
than 20 percent of the sequence data, the center played a major role
in this milestone in the biomedical revolution. Findings of the consortium,
which includes scientists from institutions in France, Germany, Japan,
China, Great Britain, Canada, and the United Statesas well as
findings of the commercially funded genome project at Celera, a private
firmoffer exhilarating and endless possibilities.
Robert H. Waterston, the James S. McDonnell Professor of Genetics, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, head of the Department of Genetics, and director of the Genome Sequencing Center, says these initial views of the genome show humans have fewer genes than suspected. He adds that the studies offer, in the long term, hope of new therapies, drugs, or even corrective genes being developed to cure many diseases.
Waterston says, "Genes behind many diseases are already knownfor example, genes leading to cystic fibrosis, to colon or breast cancer, and to Alzheimer's. But hunts for new disease genes will no longer be slowed by the search for the altered gene. Further, the studies of sequence variation will allow for the discovery of genes behind complex diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and asthma." (See "Viewpoint.")
Center for Addictions Research Established
The first national addictions research center affiliated with a school of social work will be at Washington University's George Warren Brown School of Social Work, thanks to a five-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The center, called the Comorbidity and Addictions Center, will support research on addictions interventions for underserved populations with mental-health and HIV risk factors. Director of the center, Arlene Stiffman, professor of social work, says, "Clients with combined mental health and addiction problems are in dire need of new interdisciplinary approaches."
The center, which has chosen five inaugural research projects, will fund pilot projects, sponsor seminars, and publish findings from drug-abuse research.
Chamber Choir Releases CD
The Washington University Chamber Choir is celebrating its first 10 years and the University's longstanding vocal tradition with the release of its first CD, The Chamber Choir of Washington University: The First Ten Years. The CD's 14 tracks, highlights of the group's concerts during the past decade, range from Antonín Dvorák's "In Nature's Realm, op. 63" to "3 Pieces for e.e. cummings," which alumnus David Rentz, A.B. '00, wrote for the choir. Two other pieces"Lavender Fields" and "Otche Nash"also were written for the choir.
The 60-plus members of the group are drawn from across the University community, including undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty from both the Hilltop and Medical campuses. The choir director is John Stewart, director of vocal activities in the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, who founded the choir in 1990. The group has performed in many Midwestern cities. Last fall it was chosen to sing the national anthem before an audience of 60,000 at a St. Louis Rams football game.
The CD, engineered by alumnus Jeremy Gerard, A.B. '91, M.A. '96, at Gurari Studios, New York City, is on sale at the Campus Store. Plans are to offer it also through museum shops and bookstores in St. Louis, with sale proceeds supporting the choir's concert tours.
The CD also serves as a preview for prospective University music students, who receive a complimentary copy, thanks to the University's Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Fifteen WU Programs Rank in Top 10
Rankings of graduate and professional programs published by U.S. News & World Report show 15 University programs in the top 10 of their respective areas. The magazine ranks several graduate programs, including business, engineering, law, and medicine, yearly. It ranks other graduate programs every few years, republishing those rankings annually until a new survey is done.
In the rankings, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work ranks second nationwide. The School of Medicine, which has placed in the top 10 ever since U.S. News began ranking medical schools in 1987, repeats as fourth overall, tying with the University of Pennsylvania after Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Duke universities. It ranks first in student selectivity. Of medicine's programs, physical therapy ranks 1, occupational therapy 3, microbiology 4, internal medicine 5, neurosciences 5, pediatrics 7, pharmacology/toxicology 8, genetics 9, drug/alcohol abuse treatment 10, women's health 10, geriatrics 11, AIDS 12, and health services administration 12.
In Arts & Sciences, the audiology program, in cooperation with the Central Institute for the Deaf, ranks 6. Other Arts & Sciences areas also ranked very well, including creative writing 10, geochemistry 10, biological sciences 12, American politics 15, cognitive psychology 16, political science 18, clinical psychology 19, and geology 23.
The School of Law's clinical training program ranks 14. The School of Engineering's biomedical engineering program ranks 17, the School of Architecture 19, and the School of Art's painting/drawing program 19.
The Olin School of Business' undergraduate program ranks 16 overall, with finance at 14 and general management at 24. The University's overall undergraduate program ranks 15 and ranks 17 in terms of best value. The University's rankings can be viewed at news-info.wustl.edu/rankings/gradranking.html.
Scientist Tackles "Traveling Salesman Problem"
Weixiong Zhang, associate professor of computer science, has developed an algorithm that attacks an old problem in the computing and business worlds known as the Traveling Salesman Problem (TSP).
TSP is actually an umbrella term for a whole host of planning and scheduling problems, often involving routes, such as a postal carrier's route or that of a pay phone coin collector. The goal is to find the most efficient route, saving time and money by avoiding backtracking, one-way streets, or visiting the same site twice. The tool used to do so is the algorithm, a stepwise mathematical formula.
Zhang and his AT&T Bell Labs collaborator David S. Johnson have applied the algorithm bearing Zhang's name to 10 theoretical TSPs and found it to be the best solution for half. It also has been very successful in solving "no-wait flowshop problems," such as those that occur in an automobile paint shop with multiple stations for painting different portions of a car. The algorithm maps the most efficient route from start to finish.
Algorithms such as Zhang's are memory-efficient and meant to be embedded in hardware of what's called mechanical electronic manufactured systems. Zhang is working on algorithms meant to run on smart devices, with very small memory and limited power. He is particularly interested in applying his skills in computer science and artificial intelligence to computational biology.
Law School Changes Policy on Recruiters
Because of a new Department of Defense regulation, the School of Law has begun allowing military recruiters back into the School. Under the University's nondiscrimination policy, each school was able to decide whether to admit military recruiters. The law school banned them for the past 10 years because of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on homosexuals. It was the only school on campus banning military recruiters.
The new regulation threatens to withhold all federal funding to any university if any part of it does not allow military recruiters. For Washington University, millions of dollars in federal research funding were at stake.
Law students, including many from OUTLAW, the School's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered student alliance, and faculty participated in a peaceful demonstration on February 23 to celebrate diversity and to protest the change in policy.
The change prompted many law schools to change their approach to nondiscrimination recruitment policies.
Big Breakthrough in Nanoparticles
Richard L. Axelbaum, professor of mechanical engineering, has developed a patented technology that makes nanoparticles smaller, faster, cleaner, and cheaper than existing commercial processes.
He uses sodium reduction of metal halides to produce metal and ceramic nanoparticles that are 10 nanometers to 100 nanometers in diameter. One nanometer is one one-thousandth of a micron, which is 50,000 times smaller than a human hair. Calling his technology the sodium/halide flame and encapsulation technology, Axelbaum is the first person to patent a flame technique that makes stable nonoxide materials in the nanoparticle range.
His group has produced six metals and four ceramics with the technique, and he estimates that more than 30 metals, intermetallics, ceramics, and composites can be produced with his technology. There are many applications for nanoparticles and nanocomposites, most notably in the electronics, aerospace, defense, medical, and sports and recreation industries.
Specifically, his technology can produce aluminum powder that will burn more efficiently in launches of space shuttles; make smaller capacitors for cell phones and computers, lowering their cost; and produce titanium nanoparticles for golf clubs and tennis rackets, making them strong and lightweight.
"Our immediate goal is to produce nanoparticles for industry to improve existing technologies," Axelbaum says. "But our plans are to develop new materials like transparent ceramics that we hope will create new markets. We feel that our technology can produce the next generation of nanomaterials."
Scientist Studies Microorganisms on Ocean Floor
William H. Smith, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences, recently was one of 25 scientists on an expedition to explore aspects of the sea floor associated with the Juan de Fuca Ridge, about 240 miles off the coast of Oregon. He, with a pilot and another biologist, made a long, spiraling descent to the ocean floor to conduct experiments, including testing his sophisticated imager for clues on whether and how microorganisms at the ocean floor might be using available light for photosynthesis.
Traveling in the cramped cockpit of the submersible Alvin, the crew first had to locate deep-sea vents, where the organisms can be found. (The vents, hydrothermal geysers found in areas of tectonic activity, support "vibrant oases of life," Smith says.)
Working for five hours, mainly at a depth of 7,220 feet, Smith used a microscopy hyperspectral image that he invented, with a sensor that records 100 spectral bands, as opposed to the three bands resolved by a typical color camera and the human eye. He spent four hours on others' experiments, many for scientists anxiously waiting on the surface. Smith had about an hour to conduct his own experiments, which included obtaining spectra of the unique biological communities at the vents. Results of his experiments were to be presented at spring meetings of the American Chemical Society.
Campaign Passes $1 Billion
Having Fun and Helping Others
Historical Documents Appear Online
Was Venus a Wet Planet?
International Festival Showcases Cultures
Students Asist Renowned Artist
Students See the Light in Architecture Course
Justice Ginsburg on Campus
Alums Meet the President
People Around Campus
The University's Board of Trustees has elected William F. Patient
as a trustee. Patient served as the first chief executive officer of the
Geon Company from 1993-99.
Dennis Choi, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of neurology in the School of Medicine, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine.
Michael L. Dustin, associate professor of pathology and assistant professor of biomedical engineering in the School of Medicine, was one of 59 recipients of the fifth annual Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
Seven faculty have been honored with named professorships. Sean R. Eddy is the first Goldfarb Professor of Computational Biology in the School of Medicine's Department of Genetics. The donor was Alvin Goldfarb. Scott J. Hultgren is the Helen Lehbrink Stoever Professor in Molecular Biology in the School of Medicine. Ronald S. Indeck is the first Das Family Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering for the School of Engineering & Applied Science. The donors were alumnus Santanu Das; his wife, Kabita; and their two sons, Atanu and Arnab. Stanley L. Paulson is the inaugural William Gardiner Hammond Professor of Law for the School of Law. Steven S. Smith is the first Kate M. Gregg Professor of Social Sciences in Arts & Sciences. William E. Wallace is the first Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor of Art History in Arts & Sciences. Donald L. Bryant, Jr., established the professorship in honor of his wife, Barbara Murphy Bryant. V. Leroy Young is the first William G. Hamm Professor of Plastic Surgery in the School of Medicine. A bequest from Hamm established the chair.
Richard H. Gelberman, the Fred C. Reynolds Professor and head of orthopaedic surgery, has become president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, the largest medical organization of its type in the world.
Four researchers from the School of Medicine and another from Arts & Sciences have become fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New fellows from the School of Medicine are Daniel E. Goldberg, professor of medicine and molecular microbiology and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Jeff W. Lichtman, professor of anatomy and neurobiology; Philip D. Stahl, the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Professor and head of the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology; and Thomas A. Woolsey, professor of anatomy and neurobiology, cell biology and physiology, engineering, neurology, and neurological surgery, and director of the James L. O'Leary Division of Experimental Neurology and Neurosurgery. From Arts & Sciences, the newly elected fellow is Robert W. Sussman, professor of anthropology.
Joseph L. Loewenstein, professor of English in Arts & Sciences, received the Governor's Award for Excellence in Teaching
Marcus E. Raichle, professor of radiology in the Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology in the School of Medicine, and Steven E. Petersen, professor of neurology (neuropsychology) in the School of Medicine, share the new Grawemeyer Award for Psychology for groundbreaking research in cognitive neuroscience.