FRONTRUNNERS – Summer 2009
   

 
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The Human Race Machine is a photo booth that takes a person’s picture and then shows what he or she would look like as a person of another race. (Photo: Wolfman Productions, Inc.)

Machine Provides New Look at Race and Identity
President Barack Obama’s inauguration helped generate a recent Assembly Series event featuring a frank and open discussion about race. As part of the project, the Assembly Series brought the Human Race Machine (HRM) to the University.

The HRM is a photo booth that takes a person’s picture and then shows what he or she would look like as a person of another race. A camera captures the image, then a computer program morphs the picture into others that change the subject’s appearance.

The project aims to generate an entirely different way of talking about race, identity, and other issues that divide us as a nation. Participating student groups included the Association of Black Students, Asian American Association, Connect 4, Association of Mixed Students, Pride Alliance, Ashoka, and the Association of Latin American Students. In addition, the American Culture Studies program and the Democracy & Citizenship Initiative, in Arts & Sciences, sponsored the project, as did Edison Theatre and the Big Read.

On February 25, the Assembly Series presented a discussion with selected students and faculty on how their beliefs and understanding of race changed as a result of their experiences with the Human Race Machine.

According to scientific studies, the DNA of any two humans is 99.97 percent identical, and there is no gene for race. The HRM allows individuals to move beyond physical appearance and contemplate a deeper human connection.

(See "Calling Out Prejudice" in this issue to read about Professor John Baugh’s research, discussing discrimination based on race and speech.)


Clemency Results from Law Clinic’s Work
A client of the School of Law’s Civil Justice Clinic, who was convicted for the murder of her abusive husband, received a commuted sentence from outgoing Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt.

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Since 2005, the clinic worked to bring to light the extreme physical and sexual violence that Charity Sue Carey suffered at the hands of her husband. Carey was convicted before much was known about “battered wife syndrome,” and her 30-year sentence for his murder now would be considered excessive. Thanks to the clinic’s efforts, Blunt reduced the woman’s sentence.

“When my fellow clinic students, Tom Smith, Erin Nave, Emily Vance, and I reviewed Charity’s case, we were shocked by the injustice that had occurred,” says law student Anne Siarnacki. “Charity endured years of the most severe abuse imaginable, and, yet, was serving a sentence that would keep her imprisoned and separated from her son until well into her 50s.”

According to Siarnacki, seeing true justice occur was rewarding. “My team was overjoyed to hear that Gov. Blunt granted clemency and gave Charity a chance to start her life anew,” she adds. “We all feel so fortunate to have played a role in seeing justice at work.”


(Photo: Lance Omar Thurman)

Civil Rights Leader Honored
Margaret Bush Wilson (left), emerita trustee and prominent civil rights attorney in the 1960s, received a certificate from Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton during her 90th birthday celebration on January 30, 2009, in St. Louis. Wilson was the first woman to chair the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the second woman of color admitted to practice law in Missouri. She is a charter member of the University’s Arts & Sciences National Council.


Lung Cancer Vaccine Could Improve Survival Rates
A vaccine designed to prevent the recurrence of lung cancer is now being tested in centers around the world, including the Siteman Cancer Center at the School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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By stimulating the immune system, the vaccine aims to destroy cells that carry a tumor-specific antigen called MAGE-A3. This antigen is not present in normal tissue but is found in several cancer types, including 35 to 50 percent of cases of the most common type of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer.

“The vaccine takes advantage of the immune system’s built-in ability to eliminate foreign materials and harmful cells,” says Bryan Meyers, chief of the General Thoracic Surgery section of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery who heads the vaccine trial at the School of Medicine. “This natural process causes few side-effects, unlike traditional treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.”

Known as the MAGRIT (MAGE-A3 as Adjuvant Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Immunotherapy) trial, the study will test the vaccine to determine whether it can prolong survival by delaying or preventing the recurrence of lung cancer.

Preliminary results in small trials suggest that the vaccine does improve survival. The MAGRIT trial will “give a definitive answer about which lung cancer patients will benefit from the vaccine and the degree of benefit,” says Meyers.


Master of Public Health Degree Debuts
People committed to improving the health of vulnerable communities and populations have a new degree option at Washington University—a Master of Public Health (MPH). The MPH Program at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work is accepting applications for its first class.

“Health care is a significant part of our current economic and environmental crisis,” says Timothy McBride, professor and associate dean for public health at the Brown School. “Key components of any solution will include the creation and implementation of evidence-based programs, such as health promotion and disease prevention, targeted to at-risk populations and communities. This will create greater opportunities for those interested in public health.”

As part of the public health curriculum, students will take courses in behavioral health, biostatistics, environmental health, epidemiology, and health policy and management. The curriculum also will draw upon a wide range of disciplines including economics, medicine, psychology, social work, and sociology.

A unique feature of the curriculum is a set of interdisciplinary problem-solving courses. These intensive seminars will allow students to work in small teams to focus on a specific public health issue such as obesity, diabetes, Medicare reform, cancer prevention, or international health.


Corporate Finance Central Theme of Conference
In the midst of the financial crisis, Olin Business School hosted a timely, two-day conference on corporate finance in fall 2008 that brought together leading research faculty from around the world.

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Co-sponsored by the newly launched Center for Finance and Accounting Research (CFAR) and the Center for Research in Economics and Strategy (CRES), the conference featured 10 presentations on some of the latest research in finance, with many geared toward current fiscal issues.

In addition to the 10 presentations, the conference included a special session, “Current Issues Facing Financial Markets,” in which academics joined in discussions with industry practitioners and students. The session was led by Chester Spatt, financial market expert and former chief economist of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, plus a distinguished panel of Washington University faculty.

The panel included Stuart Greenbaum, former dean of Olin Business School and the Bank of America Emeritus Professor of Managerial Leadership; Anjan Thakor, senior associate dean of Olin and the John E. Simon Professor of Finance; and Murray Weidenbaum, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences and professor of economics.

During the presentations, Greenbaum says he “was taken with the reminder of the fragility of financial markets and the delicate balance that needs to be struck between encouraging the innovative drive of markets and protecting the public against excesses and exploitation.”


(Photo: Mary Butkus)

Afghan Leader Meets with Law Students
Abdul Jabbar Sabit, former attorney general of Afghanistan and current presidential candidate in his country, met with law students during a brown bag lunch at the School of Law in fall 2008. He also spoke to students in the Afghanistan: Microcosm of International Crisis class taught by Thomas Schweich, visiting professor and ambassador-in-residence at the School of Law, and to the Anthropology of the Modern World class taught by Robert L. Canfield, professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences. Afghanistan will hold a presidential election in fall 2009.


Hope Center to Expand Neurological Research
The Danforth Foundation granted the Hope Center for Neurological Disorders at the School of Medicine a $10 million endowed gift for research into conditions that cause injury and impairment to the brain and central nervous system.

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The funds will be used to support innovative and groundbreaking new ideas for research with clear potential to improve diagnosis and treatment of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, stroke, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other disorders.

The endowment created by the gift is named for the late Donald Danforth, Jr., a 1955 graduate of the Olin Business School who was executive vice president of Ralston-Purina Co. He was the brother of Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth, former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, and St. Louisan Dorothy Danforth Miller.

The University and Hope Happens plan to raise matching endowed funds of $10 million for the same research programs over the next five years. Created in 2004, the Hope Center is a partnership between the University and Hope Happens, a public charity started by Christopher Hobler, who lost his life to ALS in 2005.

“This gift is an outstanding example of how the University, Hope Happens, and the St. Louis community continue to benefit from the generosity and leadership of the Danforths and the Danforth Foundation,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “As science develops a new generation of treatments for some of society’s most devastating disorders, this donation and the mandate for additional fundraising that comes with it help ensure that the University and the Hope Center remain at the forefront of the field in research that will alleviate suffering and find solutions for earlier diagnosis and treatment.”

The Hope Center helps support the studies of more than 70 faculty and 500 scientists with shared research facilities and annual distribution of seed grants.


Assistant Professor Eric C. Leuthardt is senior author of the study published online in Stroke. (Photo: Robert Boston)

Brain Implants May Help Stroke Patients
For the first time, scientists showed that neuroprosthetic brain implants may be able to help stroke patients who experience partial paralysis. Researchers found that implants known as brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) may be able to detect activity on one side of the brain that is linked to hand and arm movements on the same side of the body. They hope to use these signals to guide motorized assistance mechanisms that restore mobility in partially paralyzed limbs.

Partial paralysis on one side of the body results from stroke damage to the opposite side of the brain. This fits with the conventional model of how the brain controls movement, in which signals in one half of the brain control the opposite half of the body. That model led scientists to assume that stroke damage would make it impossible for BCIs to pick up any useful movement control signals from the brain and restore function in the body’s paralyzed half.

A type of brain implant, a brain-computer interface (BCI), may be able to help stroke patients overcome partial paralysis. (Courtesy Photo)

“In recent years, though, we’ve come to realize that there are actually some ipsilateral, or same-sided, control signals involved in movement,” says senior author Eric C. Leuthardt, assistant professor of neurological surgery, of neurobiology, and of biomedical engineering. “Now we’ve shown these signals can be detected and are separable from signals that control the opposite side of the body, which means we may be able to use a BCI to restore function.”

BCIs bridge gaps from brain damage and other injuries by using implanted electrodes to link the brain to a computer. The implant relays brain signals to the computer, which interprets those signals to control prosthetic devices or other means of interacting with the environment. In an earlier demonstration of the technology’s potential, the same team of scientists showed in 2005 that a patient with a BCI could use the implant to control a video game.

The current study was published online in Stroke.


University to House ‘Energy Frontier Research Center’
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Washington University $20 million, the largest research award ever received on the Danforth Campus, to research novel energy initiatives. The DOE also awarded the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center $15 million, the largest the organization has ever received, for similar research.

With the funding, the University and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will house two of 46 new multimillion-dollar Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs).

The EFRCs, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established by the DOE’s Office of Science at universities, national laboratories, nonprofits, and private firms across the nation.

As an EFRC, Washington University will establish the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center (PARC) and study forms of energy based on the principles of light harvesting and energy funneling.

Robert E. Blankenship, the Lucille P. Markey Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, will be director of the program. A professor of biology and of chemistry, he will coordinate the efforts of 16 other principal investigators from around the world. Dewey Holten, professor of chemistry, will serve as associate director. PARC will operate under the International Center for Advanced Research in Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES).

“For the St. Louis region to receive two Department of Energy awards represents a great opportunity to advance bioenergy research,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.


A free exercise program in Brazil designed to increase citizens’ physical activity could serve as a public health model in the United States. (Photo: Marcia Munk, Universidade Federal de São Paulo)

Brazilian Exercise Program Gets People Moving
What if free exercise classes were offered in public spaces such as parks, beaches, and recreation centers? When a city government in Brazil tried such a program, it greatly increased physical activity among community members. Health researchers who studied the program believe it also could work in U.S. cities with warm climates.

“This is the first thorough evaluation of a program of its kind and highlights the importance of renewing public spaces and providing physical activity classes,” says Ross C. Brownson, professor at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the School of Medicine, a faculty scholar at the Institute for Public Health, and senior author of the study. “This program could serve as a public health model in the United States, particularly across Sun Belt states.”

In Recife, the fifth largest city in Brazil, an initiative developed and managed by the city encourages physical activity in 21 public spaces. Physical education instructors teach free calisthenic and dance classes, lead walking groups, and provide nutrition information. These activities are offered free of charge each day.

Since 2002, the program, called the Academia de Cidade program (ACP), has enrolled more than 10,000 residents per year and taught 888,000 exercise classes. Researchers found that current and past participants were three times as likely to exercise than residents who had never participated.

The findings appear in the January 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study was a collaboration of Washington University, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Brazil’s Health Ministry, the Universidade Federal de São Paulo, and other Brazilian partners.


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Showcasing Cancer Patients’ Art
The Arts as Healing Program hosted a public showing of art created by cancer patients in December 2008 at the Duane Reed Gallery in Clayton, Missouri. This reception celebrated these patients as artists and honored “their journey of hope.”

The program offers free studio art classes for patients and their loved ones at the Siteman Cancer Center at the School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. These classes enable patients to express themselves and use art as a tool in healing.

Arts as Healing is facilitated by Medical Photography, Illustration, and Computer Graphics, the art department at the School of Medicine.


Letters of Thanks Become Thanksgiving Letters
Beginning in 1974—his third year as chancellor—William H. “Bill” Danforth wrote an annual letter to the Washington University community, which he sent at Thanksgiving. “The fall semester started well,” the letter began and went on to describe the freshman class that had entered the University that fall.

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The letters continued each Thanksgiving throughout Danforth’s tenure as chancellor, ending with his retirement from that position in 1995.

Their effect on the readers is described by Marie Prange Oetting, A.B. ’49, in the book’s preface: “through the … years, the ideas that Bill expressed frequently sparked discussion among the recipients like my husband and me, both Washington University alumni. People unfamiliar with the letters became interested; they asked to read them and have copies. Soon they became the springboard for meaningful conversations all around St. Louis.”

In 2008, the University published Danforth’s collected letters as a book: Thanksgiving Letters, 1974–1995.

“Now, at last, we have our ‘jewels’ in book form,” Oetting writes.

Thanksgiving Letters is available from the Campus Bookstore, wustl.edu/bookstore or (314) 935-5500.


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Gene Directs Stem Cells to Build Heart
Researchers discovered that they can put mouse embryonic stem cells to work building the heart, potentially moving medical science a significant step closer to a new generation of heart disease treatments that use human stem cells.

Scientists at the School of Medicine report in Cell Stem Cell that the Mesp1 gene locks mouse embryonic stem cells into becoming heart parts and gets them moving to the area where the heart forms. Researchers now are testing if stem cells exposed to Mesp1 can help fix damaged mouse hearts.

“This isn’t the only gene we’ll need to get stem cells to repair damaged hearts, but it’s a key piece of the puzzle,” says senior author Kenneth Murphy, professor of pathology and immunology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “This gene is like the first domino in a row: the Mesp1 protein activates genes that make other important proteins, and these in turn activate other genes and so on. The end result of these falling genetic dominoes is your whole cardiovascular system.”

Several years ago, other researchers identified Mesp1 and found it essential for cardiovascular development but did not describe how it works in embryonic stem cells.

Using mouse embryonic stem cells, Murphy’s lab showed that Mesp1 starts the development of the cardiovascular system. They learned the gene’s protein helps generate an embryonic cell layer known as the mesoderm, from which the heart, blood, and other tissues develop. In addition, Mesp1 triggers the creation of a type of cell embryologists recently recognized as the heart’s precursor.


Honors
Six professors were named fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Charles F. Hildebolt, professor of radiology; Daniel A. Ory, professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology; Craig S. Pikaard, professor of biology; Jean E. Schaffer, the Virginia Minnich Distinguished Professor of Medicine and professor of developmental biology; George M. Weinstock, professor of genetics; and Richard K. Wilson, professor of genetics and of molecular microbiology.

Terrie E. Inder, associate professor of pediatrics, of neurology, and of radiology, received a 2008 Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Douglas L. Mann was named the Tobias and Hortense Lewin Professor and director of the Cardiovascular Division in the Department of Medicine. He also is the cardiologist-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and director of the new Heart and Vascular Institute at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University.

Barbara A. Schaal, vice president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, was named the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences. Schaal, a biologist, also is professor of genetics.

Franklin “Buzz” Spector was appointed dean of the College and Graduate School of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts effective July 1, 2009. He also will hold the Jane Reuter Hitzeman and Herbert F. Hitzeman, Jr. Professorship of Art.

Gary S. Wihl was appointed dean of Arts & Sciences effective July 1, 2009.


Universities’ Role in Democracy Explored in Seminar Series
What is the proper role of American higher education in shaping the values and ambitions of a free democratic society, and, more specifically, what are Washington University’s responsibilities as a citizen of the greater St. Louis community, the nation, and the world?

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Getting the campus and surrounding community to reflect on these questions was the goal of the Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program’s “Democracy and the University” seminar series. The annual series is sponsored by University College and the MLA program in Arts & Sciences.

“The nature of the MLA program has always been to take on large and multifaceted topics, questions, and problems and consider them from a variety of disciplinary perspectives,” says Robert Wiltenburg, dean of University College. “We thought the Democracy & Citizenship Initiative would provide an ideal topic for inquiry of this sort in our February seminar series.”

In 2009, the MLA Seminar Series explored four issues central to a larger, University-wide Democracy & Citizenship Initiative (DCI) announced in May 2008 by University Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Edward S. Macias, then dean of Arts & Sciences.

“The Democracy & Citizenship Initiative is a University-wide effort to stimulate a focused conversation among the University community about its special role in a democratic society, and of the general relationship between institutions of higher education and a free society,” says Randall Calvert, the Thomas F. Eagleton University Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science and director of the American Culture Studies program in Arts & Sciences, which is coordinating the DCI.


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Coach Mark Edwards Celebrates 500th Win
Men’s basketball team members celebrate with their head coach, Mark Edwards, after defeating rival University of Chicago, 72–49, on February 28, 2009, and helping Edwards win the 500th game of his coaching career. Every one of those victories was earned at Washington University, where Edwards is 500–235 in 28 seasons on the Danforth Campus. Edwards, who guided the Bears to 25 consecutive winning seasons and two consecutive NCAA Division III championships (see Parting Shot in this issue), is the 28th coach in Division III history to achieve 500 or more wins. He recently was named the National Association of Basketball Coaches and Molten/DIII News Division III National Coach of the Year.


Chris Rehwoldt (left) and Lucas Lopez measure a set of louvers to attach to the outer frame of the shelter. (Photo:Kevin Lowder)

Architecture Students Construct Golf Shelter
Architecture graduate students recently constructed a shelter on the Ruth Park Golf Course in University City, Missouri. The shelter was a class project in a graduate design/build studio led by Carl Safe, professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The assignment required students to present a design for the shelter, create construction documents for their design, purchase materials in accordance with a set budget, and build the shelter.