KU, Kansas State faculty receive Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Awards
LAWRENCE — Four faculty members at two Kansas universities were named recipients of the Higuchi-KU Endowment Research Achievement Awards, the state higher education system’s most prestigious recognition for scholarly excellence.
The annual awards are given in four categories of scholarly and creative achievement. This year’s honorees:
- John Colombo, professor of psychology and director, Life Span Institute, recipient of the Balfour Jeffrey Award in Humanities & Social Sciences.
- Wen-Xing Ding, William Warner Ambercrombie Professor of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Therapeutics, KU Medical Center, recipient of the Olin Petefish Award in Basic Sciences.
- Jie Han, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Geotechnical Engineering, KU, recipient of the Irvin Youngberg Award in Applied Sciences.
- David Poole, University Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology (College of Health & Human Sciences) and Physiology (College of Veterinary Medicine), Kansas State University, and director, Cardiorespiratory Exercise Lab, recipient of the Dolph Simons Award in Biomedical Sciences.
The four will be recognized at a ceremony this spring along with recipients of other major KU research awards.
This is the 42nd annual presentation of the Higuchi awards, established in 1981 by Takeru Higuchi, a distinguished professor at the University of Kansas from 1967 to 1983, his wife, Aya, and the KU Endowment Association. The awards recognize exceptional long-term research accomplishments by faculty at Kansas Board of Regents universities. Each honoree receives $10,000 for their ongoing research.
The awards are named for former leaders of KU Endowment who helped recruit Higuchi to KU.
Balfour Jeffrey Award in Humanities & Social Sciences
John Colombo is a professor of psychology and director of the Life Span Institute. His work involves the relationship between early neurocognitive development and developmental outcomes later in childhood and the environmental factors that shape neurocognition early in life.
Colombo’s research has reshaped the field of infant psychological assessment. Early in his career, Colombo developed methods for using behavioral and autonomic measures of visual attention in infants that are now used in nearly 75% of work in the field. He also observed that performance on these tasks were associated with cognitive function in early childhood.
For the past 25 years, Colombo has collaborated with colleagues at KU Medical Center to improve lives around the world. His work with Susan Carlson, AJ Rice Professor of Nutrition, demonstrated that key nutrients such as essential fatty acids, prebiotics and zinc improve infant neurodevelopment. This led to changes in infant formula in the early 2000s that continue to benefit millions of people.
Colombo has held multiple leadership positions at KU, including as former interim vice chancellor for research and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. He earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate from State University of New York at Buffalo.
Olin Petefish Award in Basic Sciences
Wen-Xing Ding is the William Warner Ambercrombie Professor of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Therapeutics at KU Medical Center. He is also a KU Cancer Center member and holds an adjunct professor position at Internal Medicine of KUMC. He studies the role of mitochondria in cell death and organ injury.
Despite its notoriety as the powerhouse of the cell, mitochondria have not always been easy to study, but Ding’s research changed that. Among his discoveries is developing a tool for better quantifying mitochondrial turnover and newly made mitochondria. This technique helps researchers in neurology, pharmacology and hepatology.
Alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) has become a major financial burden and a leading cause of liver transplantation worldwide. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic that led to further increased alcohol consumption, ALD-related liver transplantation and mortality are more significant. Ding found that regular alcohol consumption leads to the production of large-sized mitochondria called megamitochondria. These are more challenging for the body to remove through autophagy, its natural waste management system for clearing dead cells, resulting in liver disease. Ding’s research could lead to better liver disease treatment through boosting autophagy with medications.
Ding received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Shanghai Medical University, completed graduate medical education at the National University of Singapore and a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.
Irvin Youngberg Award in Applied Sciences
Jie Han is the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Geotechnical Engineering in KU’s Department of Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering. His research has been applied in Kansas infrastructure to make roads, bridges and pipelines more enduring.
When roads, bridges and pipelines are constructed, engineers need to consider how soil and rock can support them safely and sustainably. One of Han’s many discoveries involves geosynthetics, manufactured polymers added to soils to improve strength and stiffness for infrastructure foundations. Methods that Han developed have been added to multiple professional and regulatory guidelines, such as the Federal Highway Administration’s geosynthetic design and construction manual and the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials’ bridge design specification.
To accommodate changes to where people live, more and more infrastructure is being built on soft soil. Han developed analytical models to assess the reliability of column-supported embankments in these soils. Several papers published from this work have been awarded by international associations and conferences between 2014 and 2022.
Han earned a bachelor’s degree in geotechnical engineering from Tongji University and a doctorate in civil engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Dolph Simons Award in Biomedical Sciences
David Poole is a University Distinguished Professor of Kinesiology & Physiology and director of the Cardiorespiratory Exercise Lab at Kansas State University. He holds the Coffman Chair for Distinguished University Teaching Scholars and the Elizabeth Chapin Burke Chair for Health and Human Sciences and is a world-renowned expert on how the body transports and uses oxygen during exercise.
Poole is one of the most internationally recognized scholars in his field both numerically and qualitatively. A ranking published by Stanford University included him in the top 2% of most-cited researchers worldwide across all disciplines. Another analysis named him the fourth most-published researcher on oxygen from 2013 to 2023. Poole’s work on capillary recruitment during exercise challenges the Nobel-prize winning findings of August Krogh from the early 20th century. His contemporary microcirculation model identifies novel therapeutic targets for treating cardiovascular and metabolic diseases
Poole’s work on gas exchange bridges the gap from the microscopic to the body in motion. His work has diverse applications from reducing lung damage in racing horses to improving anesthesia protocols in elephants and understanding, the determinants of fatigue and exercise intolerance in elite athletes and patient populations. From bench-top science to bedside Poole’s work identifying the limitations to oxygen movement has helped heart disease treatment and patient quality of life.
Poole earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physiology/exercise science from Liverpool Polytechnic, a doctorate in kinesiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in physiology from John Moores University.