08:01 AM

Ohio State bestows Distinguished University Professor title on 3 faculty

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State University has honored three members of the faculty with the highest recognition it bestows on a faculty member, conferring the title of Distinguished University Professor on John Byrd, Peter Culicover and Tina Henkin. The titles, which recognize full professors with a truly exceptional track record in three areas of faculty responsibility – teaching, research and service – were awarded at the university’s Board of Trustees meeting today.

The three professors are experts, researchers, teachers and mentors in three diverse fields, and as internationally recognized authorities, have brought honor to the university.

John C. Byrd, M.D., the D. Warren Brown Designated Chair of Leukemia Research and director of the Division of Hematology, is a physician and researcher whose discoveries hold the promise of being effective in some of the most vulnerable groups of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).

Peter W. Culicover, Ph.D., Humanities Distinguished Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics, is an internationally recognized authority on linguistic theory.

Tina M. Henkin, Ph.D., the Robert W. and Estelle S. Bingham Professor of Biological Sciences in the Department of Microbiology, is credited with discoveries about RNA molecules of such fundamental importance that they led to a new research field.

Byrd works to identify initial therapy protocols for certain vulnerable groups of patients and combinations of agents to secure the long-term control of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Most recently, he published a paper about a new drug that promotes high response rates that are durable in patients with CLL while producing minimal side effects. He continues his laboratory efforts to search for effective combinations of therapeutic agents for many types of leukemia. His international reputation for translating laboratory work with his team to improve patient lives has resulted in numerous scientific collaborations. He holds 10 patents, and his work is published in nearly 400 peer-reviewed publications.

Byrd earned his medical degree from the University of Arkansas and completed his internship and residency in internal medicine at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

In his remarks to trustees, Byrd thanked his family, clinical and research team members and patients who have entrusted their health care to his team. “With the discovery of ibrutinib, many of these patients having been given another life with new effective treatments for their leukemia are doing great things,” Byrd said.

A native of Arkansas, Byrd noted that he is the first in his family to go to college, and he applauded the university’s efforts to support diversity and “people who lack means or are of color or female gender.”

In nominating Byrd for the award, John Gribben, the Gordon Hamilton-Fairley Chair of Medical Oncology at the Barts and the London School of Medicine in London, who has collaborated with Byrd for more than 10 years, wrote, “In my view, John is now without question the foremost clinical and translational researcher in the field of CLL, and he is now greatly broadening the scope of his research to other hematologic malignancies. His work has established OSU as the premier centre for leukemia clinical research and excellence and his pioneering work has led to approval of several novel agents which have greatly improved the lives of our patients.”

Culicover, an internationally recognized authority on linguistic theory, is a pioneer in cognitive science and its relationship to mental representations of language, syntax, grammar and language acquisition. He has written or co-written 16 books, more than 75 articles in peer-reviewed publications and dozens of other addresses and conference proceedings. His many awards include the prestigious Humboldt Research Award, designation as a Fellow of three major professional organizations and many university awards.

Culicover earned his doctorate in linguistics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In his remarks to trustees, Culicover gave a brief explanation of what he called his “obsession” – linguistics: “I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the ins and outs of English and a few other languages, how sentences are put together, why some ways of stringing together words strike us as perfectly normal – like How long do you think this guy is going to keep on talking about his obsessions? while other arrangements of words are somewhat or completely unacceptable – like How long, this guy, about his obsessions, keep talking do you think he’s going to? This sounds a lot like Yoda, and the question is, precisely what is it about English that makes it sound like English and not Yoda?”

In nominating Culicover, Erhard Hinrichs, professor of theoretical and computational linguistics and associate dean for research at University of Tübingen, stated that “Peter Culicover has been one of the world’s leading linguists for more than three decades.”

Henkin’s discovery in 1994 of riboswitches and her subsequent work on the topic over the following decades established a new paradigm for regulation in biological systems. In addition, she is the co-author of a major textbook in the field of bacterial genetics and more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed publications, and the holder of two patents. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the American Association for Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences; a member of the National Academy of Sciences; winner of the National Academy of Sciences Pfizer Medal in Molecular Biology and the Ohio State University Distinguished Scholar Award; and editor of the Journal of Bacteriology.

Henkin earned her doctorate in genetics from the University of Wisconsin and completed a postdoc at Tufts University Medical School.

In her remarks to trustees, Henkin explained that her discovery of “riboswitches” came about as the result of a lucky accident. “We were studying something else, cloned a gene we didn’t intend to clone, and decided to investigate it. What started as a hobby project eventually took over the lab, and has led to the birth of a research field that engages dozens of labs around the world, and includes efforts to develop new classes of antibiotics that target these mechanisms. This provides a great example of how exploration of basic mechanisms can yield important practical outcomes,” said Henkin.

In nominating Henkin, Michael Ibba, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology, wrote, “I first encountered Tina almost 20 years ago when she gave a talk that stole the show at an international meeting in 1995, just months after she became a mother. A few years later when I was considering faculty position offers my mentor, a National Academy member at Yale University, recommended Ohio State because ‘Tina Henkin is there.’ I’m glad I took his advice. Tina is a great scientist and wonderful mentor, and she has proven herself time and again as a leader and role model for success.”

The Office of Academic Affairs provides honored faculty with a $30,000 one-time cash award to support their academic work. Honorees are expected to continue a regular program of teaching, research, scholarly or creative work, and service.