Eight physician-scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have been elected members of the newest class of the American Society for Clinical Investigation. They are being recognized for their original, creative and independent investigations in the clinical or allied sciences of medicine. The new members, who will be inducted April 21, are Megan T. Baldridge, MD, PhD; Megan A. Cooper, MD, PhD; Brian DeBosch, MD, PhD; Ryan C. Fields, MD; Karen Joynt Maddox, MD; Stacey L. Rentschler, MD, PhD; Rajan Sah, MD, PhD; and Gregory F. Wu, MD, PhD.
Baldridge, an associate professor of medicine, researches beneficial bacteria found naturally in the intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play key roles in nutrient retrieval, regulating infections, neurological function, and immune development. Baldridge studies how the native bacteria affect the immune system and interact with viral and bacterial pathogens. In particular, Baldridge studies the underpinnings of norovirus, a highly contagious, quick-moving virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Her aim is to safeguard public health by identifying ways to prevent epidemic outbreaks of norovirus.
Cooper, a professor of pediatrics, specializes in diagnosing and treating rare genetic diseases affecting the immune system. She collaborates with pediatric specialists across the globe to try and solve puzzling medical conditions. One of the rare disorders identified by Cooper and her research team is caused by a mutation in a gene known as TLR8. The gene plays an essential role in activating the immune system to fight viruses such as influenza. However, with this condition, TLR8 is overactive, causing inflammation and malfunctions in multiple parts of the immune system.
DeBosch, an associate professor of pediatrics, is focused on understanding sugar metabolism in the liver and gut and investigating ways to prevent and treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in adults and children. His work has demonstrated different strategies to shift metabolism in ways that could mimic the benefits of calorie restriction. For example, a recent study of a drug that starves tumors of their energy supply also demonstrated evidence of improving whole body metabolism.
Fields, the Kim and Tim Eberlein Distinguished Professor, specializes in the surgical treatment of cancers of the pancreas, liver, bile duct, stomach and small intestine as well as skin cancers, such as melanoma. His research is focused on understanding the genetics and biology of metastatic cancer, including the immune landscape of various tumors. He is chief of the Section of Surgical Oncology and co-leads the Solid Tumor Therapeutics Program at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.
Joynt Maddox, an associate professor of medicine, is a cardiologist whose research is focused on understanding how public policy, including Medicare and Medicaid, impacts health equity. Her work focuses on identifying policy solutions to reduce inequities for historically marginalized populations, including people from racially or ethnically minoritized groups, people living in poverty, and people living in rural areas. Also holding a master’s of public health degree, she co-directs the Center for Health Economics and Policy at Washington University’s Institute for Public Health.
Rentschler, an associate professor of medicine, is a cardiologist focused on understanding the electrical system of the heart. In heart failure and other conditions, the heart can develop abnormal rhythms that can be life-threatening. Her team recently has investigated how radiation therapy typically directed at cancer can be used to treat ventricular tachycardia, a life-threatening arrhythmia. She and her colleagues found that the radiation changed the gene expression in heart muscle cells, reprogramming them into what appears to be a younger, healthier state.
Sah, an associate professor of medicine, is a cardiologist focused on understanding how mechanically responsive ion channels regulate fundamental cellular processes, including metabolism, that influence the risk of heart and vascular problems, such as heart attack and stroke. Sah and his team developed a class of compounds that target a novel family of mechanoresponsive ion channels to treat diabetes by improving insulin secretion and the ability of tissues to use that insulin to remove sugar from the bloodstream. In mouse studies, the drug improved blood sugar levels and reduced fat buildup in the liver.
Wu, an associate professor of neurology and of pathology & immunology, studies how the immune system is dysregulated in multiple sclerosis (MS) and related autoimmune neurological conditions. In people with MS, the immune system eats away at the protective covering over nerves, disrupting communication between the brain and the body and causing pain, fatigue and movement problems. He has used animal models of MS to explore the role of immune cells such as B lymphocytes in inflammation, an important step toward optimizing immunomodulatory therapies to autoimmune diseases of the nervous system.