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Researchers fighting cancer and advancing understanding of autism receive KU achievement awards

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas experts helping meet the needs of children with autism spectrum disorder and their families and advancing precision cancer medicine have been named recipients of the Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award and the KU Research Staff and Postdoctoral Achievement Awards.

The annual awards recognize outstanding unclassified academic staff, unclassified professional staff and postdoctoral fellows whose research has significantly influenced their fields and expanded intellectual or societal insights. This year’s recipients:

  • Shelley Bredin-Oja, associate researcher, KU Fragile X Research Lab, Life Span Institute, KU Research Staff Achievement Award
  • Anna Wallisch, postdoctoral researcher, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, Life Span Institute, KU Research Postdoctoral Achievement Award
  • Maggie Witek, research associate professor, Department of Chemistry, team leader, Center of BioModular Multi-Scale Systems for Precision Medicine, Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award

The three will be recognized at an April ceremony along with recipients of other major KU research awards.

The Steven F. Warren Research Achievement Award was established in 2006 to honor unclassified academic staff researchers. Winners receive $10,000 for research funds. The KU Research Staff and Postdoctoral Achievement Awards were established in 2018, with honorees receiving $5,000 for approved research or professional development activities.

More about this year’s winners:

Shelley Bredin-Oja is an associate researcher in KU’s Fragile X Research Lab, where she manages a grant focused on 55 families with a child who has fragile X syndrome — the most common inherited cause of autism spectrum disorder.

Bredin-Oja collects data by traveling to families’ homes across 30 states to videotape mother-child interactions, administer standardized tests and interview mothers. Her efforts have built trust among the families involved in the research, allowing the 15-year study to continue with most of the same cohort of families.

Bredin-Oja also mentors undergraduate students who are completing their research practicums in the lab. Bredin-Oja earned her doctorate in speech-language pathology from KU and a master’s degree in speech and hearing sciences from Washington State University.

Anna Wallisch is a postdoctoral researcher at the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project with a clinical background in occupational therapy. Her research is driven by the unanswered questions of families of children with autism.

While conducting research on telehealth service delivery models, Wallisch learned that families were concerned about their children’s eating behaviors. She recently received a postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to use innovative technology, such as eye tracking and wearable sensors, to understand the underlying mechanisms associated with these eating behaviors.

Wallisch has a doctorate in therapeutic science and a master’s degree in occupational therapy from the KU Medical Center.

Maggie Witek is an associate research professor in the Department of Chemistry and a team leader in the Center of BioModular Multi-Scale Systems for Precision Medicine, conducting seminal work in clinical diagnostics and precision medicine.

She has researched a new strategy for isolating liquid biopsy markers found in the blood of patients diagnosed with cancer, cystic fibrosis, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. Her work is leading to development of new technologies for isolating circulating tumor cells, exosomes and cell-free DNA, which provides more accurate diagnoses and information related to new treatment ideas.

As a team leader in the CBM2, she organizes training workshops and outreach activities to help the public understand the role of scientists and engineers in precision medicine.

Witek received her doctorate in analytical chemistry from Michigan State University and an engineering master’s degree in chemical technology from Silesian University of Technology in Poland.