Newest CoEE Endowed Chair will study link between birth defects, environment

7/13/2010

Toxicology expert recruited to South Carolina specializes in interaction between environmental factors and reproductive biology.

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A renowned toxicology expert is bringing his research into the environmental causes of birth defects to the Medical University of South Carolina through the state'sCenters of Economic Excellence (CoEE) Program.

Dr. Louis Guillette will hold the CoEE Endowed Chair in Marine Genomics at MUSC. He will lead the Marine Genomics Center of Economic Excellence (CoEE), a partnership between MUSC, USC and the College of Charleston. Guillette arrives from the University of Florida, the Distinguished Professor of Biology and Professor of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Guillette and his research team will study how various environmental factors can lead to birth defects in wildlife and humans. His work involving wildlife, especially alligators, is internationally recognized.

Guillette will also partner with researchers in MUSC's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Pediatrics to perform pilot studies on the developmental health of babies.

"We will use our molecular 'toolbox' to . . . begin to understand altered health outcomes in babies like we do in various wildlife species," says Guillette. "One major advantage of this approach is that wildlife are 'real populations' – living in the same world we do with the same level of complexity, versus the world of the laboratory."

The Marine Genomics CoEE is located within the Hollings Marine Laboratory, a partnership among MUSC, USC, the College of Charleston, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Researchers at the Marine Genomics CoEE analyze physiological adjustments in animal and plant genetics that result from environmental changes.

Guillette's research could help lead to the development of new testing procedures that prevent or treat health problems caused by environmental factors.

"I believe that MUSC and the Hollings Marine Lab could become a major leader in the field of environmental health--especially human-wildlife health," says Guillette. He notes that creating a "wildlife to human health connection" could lead to better understanding of human reproductive health outcomes, which in turn could lead to new technologies and job creation.

Guillette credits the state's CoEE Program with bringing him to South Carolina.

"Without this support and endowment for program and research development, I would not have considered coming to MUSC and the Hollings Marine Lab," Guillette says. "Having funds to support innovative and exploratory research was key."

Guillette notes that innovative research requires a commitment of time, creativity, and calculated investment, and he says "the best universities and private companies understand that a 'vision of investment' leads to new opportunities and outcomes."

Guillette says the collaborative nature of the Marine Genomics CoEE and the intellectual environment at MUSC were also draws.

"The unique opportunity to work in a medical school setting and in a marine laboratory at the same time, and to have major resources to do so because of the partnership between MUSC and a major government facility like the Hollings Marine Lab was a major attraction. Also, there is a major commitment at MUSC to understand how environmental factors influence health outcomes that start during pregnancy. This includes support of studies doing cutting edge molecular work with diverse species--from humans to various wildlife species."

"We are thrilled to recruit a scientist of Dr. Guillette's caliber to South Carolina as a CoEE Endowed Chair," says CoEE Review Board Vice Chair Pamela P. Lackey. "His work will have a positive impact to the health and wellbeing of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community, and we are very pleased that his research will now be based in South Carolina."

Additional quotes

"Five years ago, the department committed to become one of the leading ob-gyn research departments in the country. Dr. Roger Newman was tapped to lead this endeavor . . . and, the rest is history. We have quadrupled our research effort and the effort has been in both basic and clinical/translational research. We have established a research infrastructure, led by Erica Ellington and we have been a part of 3 NIH-funded projects . . . with more on the way. What we did not have was a big name in the basic sciences. The COEE gave us the opportunity to attract someone of Dr. Guillette's stature. At the same time, he was interested in collaborating with a clinical department such that he could apply some of principles gleaned from alligator research to human investigation. We believe that the synergy which we all bring to the table will vault MUSC, the Hollings Marine Lab, and our department to the national forefront in terms of better understanding the impact of the environment on human reproduction and human development. Quite frankly, we can't wait to get started."

J. Peter Van Dorsten, M.D.
Chairman, MUSC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

"We are extremely excited to have Dr. Guillette joining our Department as a preeminent researcher in the fields of Toxicology and Developmental Biology. I think all obstetricians and pediatricians appreciate the role that environmental contaminants are playing in our nations rising rates of reproductive complications and heart breaks. From fetal anomalies to infertility to genital and breast cancers we are seeing unexplained increases despite years of research and our best efforts to improve care for women. There are other things going on that are not being adequately investigated and we all believe that environmental exposures lead the list of these relatively unexplored variables. Dr. Guillette brings years of experience and achievement with him to Charleston investigating these environmental impacts on a variety of wildlife species. We want to work with him first to continue his work on selected wildlife species as sentinels of our environmental health here in South Carolina and our beautiful Low Country. However, second, we want to begin to use his research experience and his techniques to extend those studies to human health. We believe that the major discoveries in obstetrical, gynecologic and child health in the next decade will come with our increased understanding of the risks associated with fouling the environment in which we live."

Roger B. Newman, M.D.
Vice Chairman of Academic Affairs and Director of Research, MUSC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

About the CoEE Program
The CoEE Program was created by the South Carolina legislature in 2002 and is funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, Medical University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence is awarded from $2 million to $5 million in state lottery funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state investment. To date, 49 Centers of Economic Excellence have been created and 35 CoEE Endowed Chairs have been appointed to lead the centers. The CoEE Program has resulted in more than a quarter billion dollars of non-state investment in the South Carolina economy and is responsible for the creation of more than 3,200 jobs.