From the WUSTL Newsroom…
Four Washington University in St. Louis researchers are being honored as outstanding scientists by the Academy of Science of St. Louis.
Each year, the academy seeks nominations of outstanding women and men in science, engineering and technology who are known worldwide for their scientific contributions to research, industry and quality of life. Those recognized also have a record of excellence in communicating with the public and/or mentoring colleagues.
John E. Heuser, MD, professor of cell biology and physiology at the School of Medicine, will receive the Academy of Science’s Peter H. Raven Lifetime Achievement Award; David Holtzman, MD, the head of the Department of Neurology, will be honored with the Fellows Award; Caitlin Kelleher, PhD, the Hugo F. & Ina Champ Urbauer Career Development Associate Professor, will receive the Innovation Award; and Lihong Wang, PhD, the Gene K. Beare Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, will be recognized with the James B. Eads Award.
Heuser, MD, emeritus professor of cell biology and biophysics, pioneered a technique for imaging cells and molecules in the electron microscope that he calls the “quick-freeze deep-etch” procedure. The process has allowed him and his colleagues to take highly detailed pictures of rapid events, including the communication that occurs between nerve cells, the uptake and secretion of materials into and out of cells, and the rapid movements of cells ranging from contracting muscle cells to swimming sperm.
He continues to use his approach, in conjunction with other advanced electron microscope techniques, to provide unique and insightful 3-D views, known as “Heusergrams,” of membranes and molecules in a wide variety of biological contexts, including nerves, muscles, glands, blood, skin and bone. Heuser recently patented an update of the original machine.
Holtzman, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor of Neurology and a professor of developmental biology, specializes in investigating the molecular mechanisms that cause Alzheimer’s disease and developing new treatments. His team played a leading role in showing how dangerous amounts of a protein called amyloid-beta (ABeta) begin to accumulate in the brain many years before symptoms arise.
Holtzman and his colleagues also have made important contributions to the search for markers of pre-symptomatic disease, research that is expected to help clinicians one day start treatment for Alzheimer’s disease prior to dementia. For example, they recently established a strong link between sleep disruption and Alzheimer’s risk.
Together with collaborators at Eli Lilly and Co., Holtzman has identified antibodies that can decrease amyloid plaques over months in mice. One of those antibodies is being tested in clinical trials involving patients with inherited forms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Kelleher will receive the Innovation Award, which recognizes a scientist or engineer, age 40 or younger, who has demonstrated exceptional potential for future accomplishments in science, engineering or technology.
Kelleher’s research centers on “democratizing” computer programming to make it accessible for everyone.
As a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, Kelleher created a programming system, called Storytelling Alice, which presented programming as a means to the end of creating animated stories. She found that Storytelling Alice greatly increased interest in programming. But she also found that many children in the United States don’t have access to a computer science class before college.
When she joined the WUSTL faculty in 2007, Kelleher began work on Looking Glass, a programming environment that explores a variety of mechanisms to support kids learning to program without the support of a teacher or classroom setting. Users write programs to create animated stories that they can share through an online community, where they become potential learning aids.
Kelleher and her group also have created a version of Looking Glass that enables physical and occupational therapists to create games for stroke rehabilitation.
Wang will receive the James B. Eads Award, which recognizes a distinguished individual for outstanding achievement in engineering or technology.
Wang and his lab were the founders of a type of medical imaging that gives physicians a new look at the body’s internal organs, publishing the first paper on the technique in 2003. Called functional photoacoustic tomography, the technique relies on light and sound to create detailed, color pictures of tumors deep inside the body and may eventually help doctors diagnose cancer earlier than is now possible and to more precisely monitor the effects of cancer treatment — all without the radiation involved in X-rays and CT scans or the expense of MRIs.
A leading researcher on new methods of cancer imaging, Wang has received more than 30 research grants as the principal investigator with a cumulative budget of more than $40 million. In 2013, Wang received a Transformative Research Award from the National Institutes of Health.
The Academy of Science of St. Louis aims to foster the advancement of science and encouragement of public interest in and understanding of the sciences. The awards will be given April 9 at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel.