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Wang named Loewentheil Distinguished Professor

Wang studies intricacies of gene regulation

by Julia Evangelou StraitFebruary 22, 2019

Mark Beaven

Ting Wang, PhD, whose work sits at the intersection of biology and computer science, has been named the inaugural Sanford C. and Karen P. Loewentheil Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Wang was installed by Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor.

The Loewentheils are longtime supporters of the university, funding several annual and endowed scholarships. Their endowment of this new professorship is intended to provide permanent support for a leading scientist focused on advancing personalized medicine. A Washington University alumnus and member of the university’s Board of Trustees, Sanford Loewentheil founded L&M Development Partners in 1984.

“We thank Sandy and Karen Loewentheil for their generous support of the School of Medicine’s precision medicine initiative,” Wrighton said. “The inaugural holder of this professorship, Ting Wang, is a leader in genetics and genomic sciences, including understanding the roles that DNA and the regulation of genes play in human health and disease. His work is at the leading edge of the kind of research required to develop treatments tailored to each patient.”

Wang, a professor of genetics and a researcher at the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology, plumbs the genetic code for new understandings of how genes and their “on-off” switches influence health and disease, with the goal of developing new treatments for many conditions.

“We are grateful to Sandy and Karen Loewentheil for their philanthropic generosity in support of the research required to bring precision medicine into the clinic,” Perlmutter said. “Ting Wang is using computational methods to understand how the genome and epigenome impact our health, knowledge that will underpin the development of new drugs and future therapeutics.”

If the DNA sequence can be thought of as the body’s genetic hardware, the epigenome is the software that reads and executes the DNA instructions. Wang is interested in how the epigenome regulates genes and how they are expressed in healthy and diseased states, including cancer. He also studies what are called transposable elements, which are sections of the genome that have jumped to different sequence locations, changing the regulation of that section of the genome.

“I am deeply honored to be chosen for the Loewentheil Distinguished Professorship,” Wang said. “We look forward to continuing our work examining how the genome has evolved, how it is regulated and how specific elements of the genome can jump to different parts of its structure, impacting its evolution and regulation. Members of my lab and I look forward to continuing our work to understand how all this might influence cell fate, including the development of cancer and other disorders.”

Wang earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Peking University in Beijing, China. He continued his studies at Washington University, earning a master’s degree in computer science in 2001 and a doctorate in computational biology through the Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences in 2006. He conducted postdoctoral research as a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow at the University of California, Santa Cruz, before returning to St. Louis, joining the Washington University faculty in the James S. McDonnell Department of Genetics in 2009.

Wang has received special recognition for excellence in mentoring at Washington University’s faculty mentor awards. He was named an eminent scholar by the International Conference on Intelligent Biology and Medicine and “Tomorrow’s PI” by Genome Technology magazine in 2011, an honor he was nominated for by Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Wang also has been named a Basil O’Connor Scholar by the March of Dimes Foundation and is a past winner of the GlaxoSmithKline Bioinformatics Prize.

Sanford Loewentheil, originally from New Rochelle, N.Y., studied psychology and business at Washington University, graduating in 1976. He joined the family real estate business and went on to co-found his own real estate development company, now L&M Development Partners. The company builds mixed-income residential housing in the New York City metropolitan area, including 1 million square feet of commercial and retail space.

In collaboration with government agencies, nonprofit organizations and Fortune 500 companies, L&M has completed more than $7 billion in development, construction and investments, including 25,000 residential units acquired, built or preserved. Over half of these are owned and operated by the company.

Sandy Loewentheil has been involved with philanthropy for decades, establishing scholarships for New York area high school students with high financial need. He has been instrumental in recruiting and providing scholarships for students from Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn to attend Washington University. The Lowentheils now have expanded their philanthropic support to include medical research.

“Diseases such as cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s affect each of us on a personal level,” Sandy Loewentheil said. “By harnessing the power of genomics, personalized medicine has the potential to revolutionize treatment and prevention of devastating disorders. Washington University is poised to be a global leader in the field, and we decided this was an area where our support was needed most. I am excited by the opportunity to learn about personalized medicine and become more involved at the medical school.”

Sandy Loewentheil and his wife, Karen, are life members of the Danforth Circle Chancellor’s level of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society. In addition to his role as a university trustee, Sandy Loewentheil is a member of the Arts & Sciences National Council and the New York Regional Cabinet.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Julia covers medical news in genomics, cancer, cardiology, developmental biology, otolaryngology, biochemistry & molecular biophysics, and gut microbiome research. In 2022, she won a gold award for excellence in the Robert G. Fenley Writing Awards competition. Given by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the award recognized her coverage of long COVID-19. Before joining Washington University in 2010, she was a freelance writer covering science and medicine. She has a research background with stints in labs focused on bioceramics, human motor control and tissue-engineered heart valves. She is a past Missouri Health Journalism Fellow and a current member of the National Association of Science Writers. She holds a bachelor's degree in engineering science from Iowa State University and a master's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Minnesota.