Robert Mecham, PhD, a pioneering cell biologist, and Nancy Morrow-Howell, PhD, a leading national scholar in gerontology, will receive Washington University’s 2012 faculty achievement awards, Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton announced.
Mecham, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology, is the recipient of the Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award, and Morrow-Howell, the Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor of Social Work at the Brown School, is the recipient of the Arthur Holly Compton Faculty Achievement Award.
Mecham, who joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1977, focuses most of his research on the extracellular matrix, or the structures between cells that join them together to form tissues and organs.
He became interested in these structures during an undergraduate work-study job, where he remembers watching the amino acid sequence for a protein called elastin emerging from a sequencer.
Elastin plays an important role in the extracellular matrix: it allows tissues to stretch and to return to their normal shape after stretching. Elastin is found throughout the body, but the heart, blood vessels, lungs and skin have the highest elastin levels.
“Understanding how to make new elastic fibers is one of the biggest challenges for treating numerous disease, and for making artificial blood vessels and other artificial tissues,” Mecham says. “Elastin is a complex polymer and we still don’t know how to replace elastin once it is damaged.”