Monique Williams’ research seeks to identify the aspects of diabetes that influence Alzheimer’s disease.

Physician Puts Relationships First

In Monique Williams’ family, exceptional longevity is the norm. Williams knew her great-great-grandmother, who lived to be 114. “She broke her hip when she was about 106,” notes Williams, A.B. ’95, M.D. ’99. “At first the surgeons were reluctant to operate, as she was the oldest patient they had ever had at the time. They couldn’t find anything wrong with her medically other than osteoporosis, so they repaired her hip.” She lived another eight years—“very active and sharp as a tack” until she died, Williams says.

“Everyone in my family lives a really, really long time,” she continues. “When we were little, we would always hang out with the older adults.”

Today, Williams is still keeping company with older adults. As an attending physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, she cares for elderly patients. As an assistant professor of medicine and psychiatry in the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science, she teaches geriatrics to medical students, residents, fellows, and community physicians. As a researcher at the School’s renowned Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), and a clinical research scholar in the Multidisciplinary Clinical Research Career Development Program, she investigates the role of insulin metabolism and diabetes in Alzheimer’s disease.

“Research suggests that people with diabetes have an increased risk of Alzheimer’s,” she observes. Among the most promising theories: The same enzyme that breaks down insulin also breaks down amyloid-beta, one of the brain-destroying proteins in Alzheimer’s. “So if you have higher levels of insulin (as with type 2 diabetes), then insulin and amyloid-beta compete for the same enzyme, and levels of amyloid could increase and deposit in the brain,” she explains.

It’s an ominous relationship. With the exploding epidemic of diabetes and the concurrent aging of the baby boomer generation, “there’s going to be a huge surge in Alzheimer’s disease cases if we can’t intervene,” Williams says. Williams’ research seeks to identify the aspects of diabetes that influence Alzheimer’s risk.

Williams also is engaged in community outreach. She serves on the St. Louis Alzheimer’s Association speakers’ bureau and was named a 2007 Volunteer of the Year for her work. She speaks at senior apartments, church groups, women’s clubs, and other venues at least weekly, sharing the latest information about healthy aging, memory, and Alzheimer’s. She attends health fairs. And she helps the ADRC reach out to African-Americans, who sometimes mistrust the medical establishment.

“Investigators,” she explains, “get a reputation for just coming into the community, doing a study, leaving, and never coming back. It is important to develop sustained relationships in the community.” So Williams and others on the ADRC’s African-American Advisory Board seek ways to encourage participation in long-term memory and aging studies. “African-Americans and all minority groups remain understudied in dementia research,” she observes, “so we need to do more studies to fully understand the disease.”

The center also staffs an African-American Satellite to provide clinical services—memory assessments, for instance—in the community. Williams is the satellite’s physician.

Williams cannot remember a time when she did not want to be a doctor. Her mother taught a cognitive model of study skills to Purdue University undergraduates. “I used to listen to it all the time,” she recalls. “In day care my favorite word was ‘hippocampus.’” Her father, Luther Williams, was a Purdue microbiology professor and, from 1980 to 1983, dean of WUSTL’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

As an undergraduate, she double-majored in biology and French. She found the latter great preparation for being a physician. “Much of French literature deals with illness and metaphors for illness,” she notes.

Williams’ passion for geriatrics is unmistakable. “Geriatrics still allows you the time to develop rapport with patients,” she says, gratefully. “One of the most rewarding things about my work is being able to interact with older adults, really interesting people who have done amazing things in their lives.”
—Betsy Rogers

This past summer, sprinter Irv Siegel qualified for three races in the National Senior Olympics in Louisville, Kentucky.

Giving Life a Run for Its Money

As a sprinter, Irv Siegel always finds lining up for a race a gut-wrenching experience. While lining up with the 50th Reunion class to lead the processional into Brookings Quadrangle at Washington University’s Commencement in 1999, however, Siegel was excited not nervous. And instead of hearing, “Gentleman, take your marks,” he heard applause from the young soon-to-be-graduates nearby. To Siegel, this was a touching moment.

“In that moment, I realized we had accomplished something,” Siegel says, “and in that realization, I truly appreciated the effort I had put into school so many years before.”

Realizations, accomplishments, and especially hard work are concepts that inform and describe the life of Irv Siegel.

Taught to put academics first, Siegel studied to gain admittance to the Navy’s electronic school at 17 and, despite wearing glasses, was able to enlist as a seaman when he turned 18. With Radar School training and a knack for all things electrical, Siegel was re-admitted to Washington University after World War II. He found his engineering studies “challenging because it was so empirical.” Graduating in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, he went on to earn a master’s degree through the University of Missouri-Rolla, all while working at McDonnell Douglas.

He dedicated 30 years to McDonnell Douglas and spent some time with the Granite City, Illinois, company A.O. Smith, becoming chief electrical engineer. During his career, Siegel was a self-employed consultant, too.

He also is a devoted husband and father, raising two children, both University alumni: Gary, J.D. ’85, and Victoria, A.B. ’81, M.A. ’88. Over the years, Siegel nourished hobbies in photography, painting, gardening, and, later, running.

Though “able to leap fences” as a kid, Siegel did not participate in athletics in school, except at the intramural level. Not owning track shoes in high school, he was unaware of his talent as a sprinter.

Now in his early 80s, he is a decorated Olympian, one who has been competing in regional and national senior track events, specifically the 100m, 200m, and 400m races, since he was in his mid- to late-50s.

This past summer, he participated in the National Senior Olympic games in Louisville, Kentucky. His only wish was to qualify in his events in the 80–84 age bracket. Carrying the spirit of Churchill Downs with him, and the loving support of 10 family members and friends who traveled to watch him run, he successfully qualified in all three. This support especially helped propel him to fourth place in the 400m, which he calls “a brutal race, because you’ve got to have stamina and you’ve got to have speed.”

When Siegel first began to run competitively, at 56, his physician, who had worked with the U.S. Olympic track team while at UCLA, created a rigorous training program. It paid off: Siegel still holds the state and local 400m record for the 65–69 age bracket.

Even today, when Siegel is preparing for a race, he trains for the 100m on Monday, the 200m on Wednesday, the 400m on Friday, and then runs three miles on Saturday to build up stamina. He also lifts weights three times a week to keep his muscle strength, and he plays racquetball, though his number of playing partners over the years has dwindled.

He’s traveled from Syracuse, New York, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to San Antonio, Texas, to race, and one of his favorite things about competing is meeting new people. “I have my camera wherever I go, and I take pictures. I send them out to my friends across the country during the holidays.”

Another favorite part is just finishing: “When you’ve completed the race, when you’ve done something, that’s the reward.”—Terri Nappier