By Jim Dryden
Laura Jean Bierut, MD, has been named the Alumni Endowed Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Bierut’s work focuses on the genetic and environmental influences that contribute to addiction and other psychiatric disorders. She has conducted extensive research on factors related to abuse and dependence of alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs and has served as principal investigator on several national studies of addiction genetics.
“Dr. Bierut’s distinguished research accomplishments have helped maintain and advance Washington University’s role as a leader in biological psychiatry,” said Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “She richly deserves the honor of this professorship, and as an institution, we remain very appreciative of the enormous generosity the Washington University Medical Center Alumni Association has shown in continuing to provide the support that makes these professorships possible.”
Alumni endowed professorships are funded by gifts from medical alumni and former house staff. They are awarded to faculty members to provide them with funds to initiate research and pioneer projects that offer the greatest potential for yielding discoveries, as well as to teach the next generation of physicians, scientists and medical professionals. The initial alumni endowed professorship was awarded in 1982, and there are 10 such professorships at the School of Medicine. Bierut is the first alumni endowed professor in the Department of Psychiatry.
“Laura is a tremendously accomplished scientist, clinician and teacher,” said Charles F. Zorumski, MD, the Samuel B. Guzé Professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry. “She is a leader in psychiatric genetics, and she heads an outstanding group of local scientists and national collaborators studying two of the major public health problems confronting our country: alcoholism and nicotine dependence. She is a role model for clinician-scientists in psychiatry, and this professorship is a much-deserved recognition of her contributions to our institution and to the field of psychiatry.”
A member of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Genetics Consortium, Bierut works with scientists from around the country who are leading efforts to understand the genetic causes of substance dependence. She also had a major role in the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Genes, Environment and Health Initiative research project, in which she led a research effort focused on the interplay of genes and environment in the development of addiction. Most recently, she has been invited by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to serve as one of 12 scientists on the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse.
“Alumni of Washington University School of Medicine are national and international leaders in research, clinical care and teaching,” Bierut said. “To receive this recognition from the alumni is a great honor.”
She is an investigator on several multi-site studies of genetics and substance dependence, including the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism, the Genome Wide Association Study of Nicotine Dependence and the Collaborative Genetic Study of Nicotine Dependence.
Her research has identified genes that can help predict whether people will respond to medication to help them quit smoking. Other work has determined that genes influence how much people tend to smoke, as well as which smokers are the most likely to develop lung cancer.
Bierut earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in biochemistry and molecular biology from Harvard University. She earned a medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine, where she later completed a residency in psychiatry. She was a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatric genetics at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
An author of more than 240 peer-reviewed scientific papers, Bierut was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society, and she has been honored by the American Psychiatric Association and Washington University for her work as a teacher and mentor to medical students, residents, postdoctoral trainees and junior faculty members. She also is listed as a “Best Doctor” in America.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth 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.