FRONTRUNNERS–Winter 2007
   

 

Sharing Surgical Skills in Central America
In late July, Jeffrey Lowell, professor of surgery and of pediatrics at the School of Medicine, was in El Salvador operating on a Salvadoran soldier who had been injured by a grenade explosion while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Professor Jeffrey Lowell (left) and Eric Shirley, lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, perform clubfoot repair surgery on a child while on board the USNS Comfort.

Lowell was deployed on a mission serving in his role as a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Reserve. He served as a general surgeon on the USNS Comfort while the ship was in Panama, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

The nearly 900-foot-long ship, originally built as an oil tanker, went on a four-month mission to South America, Central America, and the Caribbean providing training, free medical treatment, and humanitarian assistance.

Lowell and the other physicians on board saw patients in land-based clinics, most without electricity or air conditioning in stifling heat, to provide adult and pediatric medicine, optometry, dermatology, preventive medicine, and dental care. Hundreds of patients would be lined up at the clinic before the physicians arrived, Lowell says.

Because the ship was too large to dock at many of the ports, patients who needed surgery were taken to the ship via boat or Blackhawk helicopter. The surgeons each handled about six or seven cases a day, including hernia repair, clubfoot repair and other orthopedic procedures, and gynecological and urological procedures, Lowell says.

“The experience was personally and professionally gratifying,” Lowell says. “These people have no money and little access to health care. The frustrating thing was not being able to help more of them.”


The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter takes pictures of Mars. Software developed by WUSTL researchers now allows viewers
everywhere access to early images from the most powerful spectral camera ever sent to Mars.

Huge Mars Database Easily Accessible with New Software
A software program developed by researchers at Washington University is allowing viewers access to data and some early images from the most powerful spectral camera ever sent to Mars. The information is now available on NASA’s online planetary data archive.

NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS) Geosciences Node, housed in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Building, produced the program, the Orbital Data Explorer.

Keith Bennett, of earth & planetary sciences and deputy manager of the PDS Geosciences Node, and software engineer Dan Scholes put the program together. The software provides tools that allow users to search, display, and download PDS-archived data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and other selected Mars missions. (The program is at http://ode.rsl.wustl.edu/mars.)

Ray Arvidson, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences, manages the PDS Geosciences Node. The images come from Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM), flying aboard NASA’s MRO.

CRISM, combined with other cameras and sensors on the MRO, is providing the most detailed look yet at Martian geology, climate, and surface makeup.

“The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is collecting more data, and carrying out more complex observation plans, than any other mission to Mars,” Arvidson says.

The first of these observations are available at http://pds-geosciences.wustl.edu/missions/mro/crism.htm.


(Left to right) Damien Fair, Binyam Nardos, Sam Craig, Rahel Nardos, and Tracy Nicholson show the books sent to medical students in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Medical Students Benefit from Used Textbooks
Several student groups and administrators at the School of Medicine and residents at Barnes-Jewish Hospital have collected nearly 500 medical textbooks to help their counterparts in Ethiopia.

The textbooks will replace outdated books at the medical school at Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa University.

Rahel Nardos, a native of Ethiopia who recently completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Barnes-Jewish, spent a week working in Addis Ababa University’s hospital last year. She noticed residents there were using photocopies of outdated material instead of textbooks. Nardos asked if they would be interested in newer textbooks, and her idea was born.

Nardos received help from her husband, Damien Fair, a fourth-year doctoral student in neuroscience and a member of the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences’ Association of Black Biomedical Graduate Students (ABBGS). ABBGS became a co-sponsor for the effort along with the Center for Diversity and Cultural Competence at Barnes-Jewish, the Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship Program, the Office of Diversity Programs, and Bar Italia.

Over several weeks the groups collected used books and some of the money needed to ship them to Addis Ababa. They are still seeking donations to ship the last few boxes.
Nardos and Fair will be there to see the books making a difference during Nardos’ one-year fellowship at Addis Ababa University.


Track and field star Delaina Martin completed an undergraduate degree in May with a 3.67 grade-point average. She majored in mathematics and Spanish, both in Arts & Sciences.

Martin Contends for ‘Woman of the Year’
Washington University track and field star Delaina Martin was among the Top 30 contenders for the 2007 NCAA Woman of the Year award.

Martin completed her undergraduate studies in mathematics and Spanish in May with a 3.67 grade-point average. She finished her four-year intercollegiate career as the school record holder in four events—the 20-pound weight throw and shot put indoors, and the hammer throw and shot put outdoors.

Martin is one of the most decorated track and field athletes in UAA history with 16 All-Association honors. In indoor competition, she was a three-time UAA champion in the 20-pound weight throw (2005–2007) and also won the shot put (2006). Outdoors, Martin claimed association titles in the hammer throw (2005, 2006), discus (2004, 2005), and shot put (2006).

She twice was named the field events Most Outstanding Performer in the indoor championships (2006, 2007), garnered Most Outstanding Performer accolades at the outdoor event in 2005, and was named the UAA Rookie of the Year in 2004. Martin also earned All-America accolades as a junior and senior at the NCAA Division III Championships.

Named a three-year All-Academic honoree by the UAA and the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, Martin now works for the Teach For America program as an algebra teacher in Edcouch, Texas.


International Students Explore U.S. Legal System
A new, two-week Summer Institute in United States Law drew undergraduate law students from several countries, including Portugal, India, Iceland, Denmark, and Venezuela to St. Louis. Nearly a dozen international students explored the U.S. legal system, its basic structures and processes, and the ways in which it is distinctive from the legal systems of their home countries.

The program introduced the international students to American legal teaching methods and the U.S. legal system, as well as to Washington University School of Law, specifically.  

“The law school has a very successful yearlong master’s in law (LL.M.) program for foreign lawyers who have earned their bachelor of law in their home countries,” says Michele Shoresman, associate dean for graduate programs. “We are now inviting such students for a shorter period of time to see our campus and to become familiar with the quality of legal education we offer.”

As part of the summer program, the students assumed the role of a U.S. lawyer resolving hypothetical problems.

Leigh Greenhaw, senior lecturer in law, and Michael Koby, senior lecturer in law and director of the Trial & Advocacy Program, served as the institute’s faculty.


New Center Named in Honor of Danforths
Washington University has named its new university center in honor of Chancellor Emeritus William H. and the late Elizabeth (Ibby) Gray Danforth. The building is under construction on the University’s Danforth Campus at the intersection of Forsyth Boulevard and Wallace Drive.

The William H. and Elizabeth Gray Danforth University Center, scheduled to open for the fall 2008 semester, will be a gathering place not only for students, but for the entire community—faculty, staff, friends, parents, alumni, and visitors.

Constructed entirely in the Collegiate Gothic style, the three-story, 116,000-square-foot facility will feature dining areas, lounges, meeting rooms, and offices for student leaders and student services professional staff.

“For so many of us and for such a long time, Bill and Ibby have embodied this institution. They have made an extraordinary impact on the past, present, and future of the University, and we cherish this association,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says. “There is no better way to honor their love for the University than to name the center for them.”

The building has been designed as a green structure, to be Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-NC Gold certified. It will have improved water and energy efficiency exceeding state and federal codes. Construction has included the use of many recycled products and materials, and more than half of the construction waste will not end up in a landfill.


Jeffrey Cameron Megan Daschbach

Students Selected to Meet Laureates in Germany
Arts & Sciences graduate students Jeffrey Cameron, a Ph.D. candidate in biology, and Megan Daschbach, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, were chosen to attend the 57th Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and Students in Lindau, Germany, on July 1–6, 2007. Cameron was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy, and Daschbach was selected by the  National Science Foundation.

Since 1951, Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics, and physiology/medicine have convened annually in Lindau to conduct meetings with students and young researchers from around the world. This year’s event focused on physiology and medicine.

Cameron and Daschbach joined 47 students from the United States and more than 500 international students at the meeting.

During the meeting, the laureates lectured on topics related to physiology and medicine and participated in small group discussions with the students. The meeting’s primary purpose was to allow participants—most of whom are students—to benefit from informal interaction with the Nobel Prize winners.

At Washington University, Cameron’s research concentration is photosynthesis and manganese homeostasis and Daschbach’s is synthetic anion transporters.


Ian Pearson (second from right) and Corinne Pascale (far right) examine a mold for an orthotic with students from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Biomedical Engineering Devices Studied in China
Nine biomedical engineering students from the School of Engineering spent two weeks in China this past summer to learn about the need for biomedical devices in facilities such as orphanages and hospitals. They were led by Frank Yin, department head and the Stephen F. & Camilla T. Brauer Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Joseph Klaesner, a research assistant professor of physical therapy.

The students lived and studied at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU). The faculty at PolyU introduced the students to different problems that can be addressed by biomedical engineering solutions.

At Sun-Yat Sen University in Guangzhou, the students learned about applications of functional electrical stimulation for stroke patients. The group then traveled to Dongguan Rehabilitation Center to study applications of orthotics for children with cerebral palsy. The insights they gained will form the basis of their senior design projects.


Concerns About Child Protective Services Have ‘Little Basis in Reality’
Efforts to improve Child Protective Services (CPS) would be more effective if they were based on available data instead of assertions not supported by evidence, say child welfare services experts Brett Drake and Melissa Jonson-Reid, associate professors of social work.

All states have mandated reporting laws that compel specific people, usually CPS staff and helping professionals, to report suspected instances of child maltreatment.

These laws have generated complaints and controversy, and the child welfare system is being questioned by a small but vocal group of people, including some professionals who have asserted that the laws may do more harm than good.

“While there is no doubt that the current child welfare system has flaws, we can find little empirical data supporting the scathing critiques of mandated reporting laws and CPS,” say Drake and Jonson-Reid.

Drake and Jonson-Reid reviewed national-level empirical data. The researchers used information from the last three decades to examine the following criticisms: CPS is overwhelmed by investigative functions; CPS is unable to provide services beyond the initial investigation; CPS is viewed as being intrusive and ineffective; and the mandated reporting system is seen as an unreasonable burden.

Overall, Drake and Jonson-Reid’s work suggests many concerns about the current reporting system are unfounded, and there appears to be no evidence suggesting that current reporting requirements be abandoned.


Anti-Discrimination Bond May Reduce Employee Litigation
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 (CRA-91) held great promise for protecting workers from discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, CRA-91 also has increased the likelihood that a firm will be sued for discrimination.

The cost to defend an accusation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an estimated $10,000 to $15,000, even if the allegation is found to be without merit.

As a result, CRA-91 has induced hiring discrimination. Evidence exists that employers minimize litigation risk by avoiding hiring employees they believe pose the greatest risk—those in groups protected by the EEOC.

One way to avoid this problem, says Anne Marie Knott, assistant professor of strategy at the Olin Business School, is to offer an “anti-discrimination bond” to prospective employees. Economic experiments indicate the bond may reduce employment litigation by 96 percent, Knott says.

“Employees make contributions through payroll deductions that are accumulated in individual accounts,” Knott says. “However, the bond has a provision that the contributions are forfeited in the event that the employee brings suit.” If an employee never sues but leaves the company for other reasons, he or she would get back all invested money plus interest.

Knott says the bond is priced so that non-litigious employees find it attractive, while litigious employees find it unattractive. If the person buys the bond, he or she is not likely to sue. Conversely, if someone refuses to buy the bond, it increases the likelihood that the candidate will sue.


Older Adults Don’t Always Get Punchline
It is no laughing matter that older adults have a tougher time understanding basic jokes than do younger adults.

This is partially due to a cognitive decline associated with age, according to University researchers Wingyun Mak, a graduate student in psychology in Arts & Sciences, and Brian Carpenter (see pp. 16–17), associate professor of psychology.

Humor comprehension in older adults functions differently from humor comprehension in younger adults. The researchers studied older adults from a University subject pool as well as undergraduate students. The subjects participated in tests that indicated their ability to complete jokes accurately as well as tests that indicated their cognitive capabilities in areas of abstract reasoning, short-term memory, and cognitive flexibility. Overall, older adults demonstrated lower performance on both tests of cognitive ability as well as tests of humor comprehension than did younger adults.

“However, just because you’re an older adult does not mean that you can’t understand humor. All hope is not lost,” Mak says. “This is just the first step in understanding how humor comprehension functions in older adults.”

Understanding the relationship between humor comprehension and cognition eventually may facilitate the way humor is integrated into programs or therapies for older adults.

Researchers are just beginning to “tease” out ways to prevent cognitive decline in older adults. And perhaps one day grandchildren and their grandparents will be able to continue giggling at the same bad jokes.


Brain’s Control Network Splits as Children Age
Two recently discovered control networks that govern voluntary brain activity in adults start life as a single network in children, report neuroscientists at Washington University.

One control network, dubbed the cingulo-opercular network, is the “stable, sustaining” network, likely to be active during prolonged mental activities, such as reading a text. In contrast, the fronto-parietal network is a “more online, rapid-adapting controller,” which has active periods including times when the brain recognizes an error and changes its approach to a problem.

Researchers were surprised to find the two networks merged together in children.

“This has important implications not only for our thinking about how the architecture of the brain develops, but also for how that same structure breaks down in aging, disease, and injury,” says senior author Bradley L. Schlaggar, assistant professor of pediatrics, radiology, neurology, and neurobiology and anatomy.

Neuroscientists have spent much of the past few decades tracing brain functions to small brain areas or collaborations between a few of those areas. But scientists have sometimes found it difficult to use this approach to predict how injuries to a given area of the brain will affect a patient’s cognitive abilities.

“We’re optimistic that answers to these problems and other important questions may lie in a more network-oriented approach that analyzes how several different brain regions regularly work with each other, exchanging data, directives, and feedback,” says co-author Steven Petersen, the James S. McDonnell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and director of the Division of Neuropsychology.


Architecture Students Win International Museum Design Competition
Peter Elsbeck, Cristina Greavu, and Eric Rang, all graduate students in architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, won an international competition to create a sculptural façade for El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe in New Mexico.

The group’s winning design was selected from more than 100 entries submitted by architects, artists, and designers representing 10 countries. The team received a $5,000 first-place cash award.

El Museo Cultural—a center for Hispanic culture and learning now celebrating its 10th anniversary—is housed in a rehabbed, 32,000-square-foot former liquor warehouse. Competition entries were judged on creativity and their ability to transform the building’s existing industrial façade into a focal point for Santa Fe’s emerging Railyard Arts District.

The winning proposal, titled “Shifting Lines,” consists of semi-translucent strips of white architectural fabric arranged in a rhythmic, undulating pattern along the building’s eastern side. During the day, these 10-inch-wide strips will create ever-changing configurations of shadows on the building’s corrugated steel cladding. At night, they will be subtly lit by a curving bank of low-intensity lamps.


Future Obesity Treatments May Focus on Intestinal Protein
Researchers at the School of Medicine have found that a protein absorbs lipids in the upper part of the intestine, and they believe it may provide a novel approach for future obesity treatment.

Nada A. Abumrad, the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Professor of Medicine and Obesity Research at the School of Medicine, identified the protein, CD36, that facilitates the uptake of fatty acids.

Normally, CD36 absorbs fatty acids in the upper, or proximal part of the intestine, but when it is absent, lower, more distal, sections of the intestine compensate and absorb the fat.

When no CD36 was present in the genetically altered mice in Abumrad’s study, the lipids were absorbed more slowly since they had to travel to lower parts of the intestine.

Although scientists in Abumrad’s laboratory think it may be possible to help people lose weight by interfering with the CD36 protein, they first want to learn more from the mouse since disabling CD36 everywhere can have detrimental effects.

“If we find that such a mouse [one that can make CD36 everywhere except in the intestine] still has delayed absorption of fatty acids and cholesterol and ends up eating less fat, we’ll have more evidence that this might be a good approach to use in humans,” Abumrad says. “Block the function of the protein in the intestine, absorb fewer lipids, and since your absorption is delayed, you don’t feel as hungry and you eat less.”


Rare Survey of Korean Comics Exhibits at WUSTL
Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in Japanese manga, or comic books, in the United States, yet Korean comics remain relatively unknown. This fall, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University exhibited Korean Comics: A Society Through Small Frames, a rare U.S. exhibition of work from both North and South Korea.

Organized and curated by The Korea Society, Korean Comics featured more than 80 works by 21 cartoonists, drawn from the 1950s to the 1990s. The exhibition provided a decade-by-decade glimpse of the evolving social realities in contemporary Korea, as depicted in comics ranging from popular children’s entertainment to aggressive forms of political commentary.


Honors & Recognition
Raymond E. Arvidson, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences, was selected by a committee at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) as the winner of the 2007 AGU Planetary Science 2007 Whipple Award.
Richard A. Chole, the Lindburg Professor and head of the Department of Otolaryngology and professor of molecular biology and pharmacology, received the 2007 Award of Merit from the American Otological Society for his leadership in research, education, and directing the American Board of Otolaryngology.
Linda B. Cottler, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry and director of the Epidemiology and Prevention Research Group, was named president-elect of the American Psychopathological Association.
Ramanath Cowsik, professor of physics and director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences in Arts & Sciences, received the 2007 M.P. Birla Memorial Award from the M.P. Birla Institute of Fundamental Research and the M.P. Birla Planetarium in Kolkata, India.
Timothy Eberlein, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and director of the Siteman Cancer Center, was elected to a three-year term on the board of directors of the Association of American Cancer Institutes.
Anne C. Goldberg, associate professor of medicine, was elected president of the National Lipid Association.
Patricia Gregory was named assistant vice chancellor and executive director of medical corporate and foundation relations at the School of Medicine.
Bruce Lindsey, dean of the College of Architecture and the Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Design, was named the E. Desmond Lee Professor for Community Collaboration in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.
Susan E. Mackinnon, the Sydney M. Shoenberg, Jr. and Robert H. Shoenberg Professor of Surgery and chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, was named president of the American Association of Plastic Surgeons.
Matthew Malten was appointed assistant vice chancellor for campus sustainability.
Daniel R. Mandelker, the Howard A. Stamper Professor of Law, received the American Bar Association’s prestigious Daniel J. Curtin Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his outstanding service in the field of state and local government law.
James E. McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, was named one of St. Louis’ Most Influential Minority Business Leaders for 2007 by the St. Louis Business Journal.
Michael J. Mueller, associate professor and division director of research for the Program in Physical Therapy, received the American Physical Therapy Association’s 2007 Jules M. Rothstein Golden Pen Award for Scientific Writing.
David G. Mutch, the Ira C. and Judith Gall Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was named president-elect II of the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists.
Ralph Quatrano, the Spencer T. Olin Professor and chair of the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, received the inaugural Fellow of American Society of Plant Biologists Award.
Yoel Sadovsky, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, was named president-elect of the Perinatal  Research Society.
Samuel Stanley, Jr., vice chancellor of research, was named an ambassador in Research!America’s Paul G. Rogers Society for Global Health Research.
William F. Stenson, professor of medicine, was named the Dr. Nicholas V. Costrini Professor of Gastroenterology & Inflammatory Bowel Disease at the School of Medicine.