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BJC Investigators Program: Transformative Basic Science Research

Aimed at uncovering the biological, genetic and molecular mechanisms of living systems, basic science research is both foundation and fuel for advances in health and medicine.

At Washington University School of Medicine, the BJC Investigators Program is assembling a cohort of some of the most innovative and accomplished basic life scientists in their fields. Launched in 2017, the program will eventually bring 10 renowned investigators to the medical school and the life sciences ecosystem of St. Louis. The BJC Investigator Program is a joint effort between BJC HealthCare and Washington University.

Embedding in the rich network of mentors and collaborators at Washington University, this cohort of investigators is supercharging the school’s ever-expanding capacity to advance medical care today and prepare the leaders of tomorrow.

Meet the investigators

Each BJC Investigator brings a wealth of talent, creativity and expertise that have led to foundational discoveries in biology. They have pioneered innovative approaches to major biological quandaries, and their work is expected to accelerate progress toward finding treatments and cures for diseases ranging from psychiatric disorders to viral infections to birth defects.

Adam Kepecs, PhD

Robert J. Terry Professor of Neuroscience
Professor of Psychiatry

As part of his investigations into the neurobiology of behavior, Adam Kepecs, PhD, has helped describe the neural circuitry that underlies decision-making. His lab is focused on understanding the computational processes of cognition and applying that knowledge to treating mental illness. He has been a Kavli Frontiers of Science fellow, a John Merck Scholar, a Klingenstein Fellow, an Alfred P. Sloan research fellow, and the recipient of a McKnight Foundation Memory and Cognitive Disorders Award.

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Jonathan Kipnis, PhD

Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Immunology

Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, is well known for his research into the immune system’s influence on neurological function, including his stunning discovery of lymphatics, the immune system’s drainage ducts, around the mammalian brain. He has received the Prize of Excellence from the Israeli Knesset, the Jordi Folch-Pi Award from the American Society for Neurochemistry and the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award.

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Polina V. Lishko, PhD

Professor of Cell Biology & Physiology

Polina V. Lishko, PhD, is a noted molecular biologist and entrepreneur whose work has advanced understanding in fields as varied as reproductive biology, vision and neurodegeneration. She is best known for basic reproductive biology research that could lead to alternatives to hormonal contraceptives. She is also investigating a potential link between menopause and increased Alzheimer’s risk, and developing an eyedrop to prevent age-related macular degeneration. Among her numerous accolades, Lishko was selected as a Sloan Foundation Fellow and a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences in 2015, and she received a MacArthur “Genius Grant” in 2020.

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Carolina López, PhD

Professor of Molecular Microbiology

Carolina López, PhD, studies the interactions between viruses and the hosts they infect. Her lab has provided foundational insights into the ability of non-standard viral genomes—versions of a virus’s genome that aren’t the full-length copy—to affect the course of infection. She is a fellow of the NIH-funded Professional Mentoring Skills Enhancing Diversity (PROMISED) Program, a recipient of a faculty mentoring award from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was an associate professor of pathobiology, and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar.

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Helen McNeill, PhD

Larry J. Shapiro and Carol-Ann Uetake-Shapiro Professor of Developmental Biology

Helen McNeill, PhD, joined Washington University School of Medicine in 2018 as the inaugural BJC Investigator. Her research focuses on the processes that govern early embryonic development, in particular, molecules called giant cadherins that bind cells together during tissue growth. This work has implicated giant cadherins in numerous conditions, including spina bifida and congenital kidney diseases. Her accomplishments have been recognized by the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award, the Lloyd S.D. Fogler, QC, Award of Excellence and a Canada Tier 1 Research Chair.

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Dave Pagliarini, PhD

Hugo F. and Ina C. Urbauer Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology

Dave Pagliarini, PhD, studies mitochondria—the energy-producing organelles within cells—and has made major advances in identifying their components and their roles in health and disease. His work has earned him the Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging, the Searle Scholar Award, the Protein Science Young Investigator Award from The Protein Society, the Earl and Theresa Stadtman Young Scholar Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the National Science Foundation.

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Kodi S. Ravichandran, PhD

Director of the Division of Immunobiology, Department of Pathology and Immunology
Robert L. Kroc Professor of Pathology and Immunology

A world leader in understanding innate immunity, Kodi S. Ravichandran, PhD, and his team have identified key mechanisms by which dead cells are cleared from the body in a process called efferocytosis. Failures in this process are linked to a host of autoinflammatory diseases. Ravichandran has received many honors and awards, including State of Virginia Outstanding Scientist of the Year and the University of Virginia Distinguished Scientist Award, among others. He has been dedicated to teaching and mentoring dozens of postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, many of whom have gone on to success in academia and industry.

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Selection committee and advisory board

A search committee of about 50 researchers at Washington University School of Medicine selects BJC Investigators based on their track record of pathbreaking science, transformative thinking, and creating research hubs that catalyze further work.

A seven-member external advisory board also assists in BJC Investigator recruitment. Representing top research institutions across the country, advisory board members include National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine members, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators, a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

BJC Investigator External Advisory Board members:

Helen M. Blau, PhD
Stanford University

Brian J. Druker, MD
Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute

Brian Kobilka, MD
Stanford University School of Medicine

Ruth Lehmann, PhD
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dan R. Littman, MD, PhD
New York University School of Medicine

Joshua R. Sanes, PhD
Harvard University

Joan A. Steitz, PhD
Yale University