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Environmental Factor

March 2011

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Yao wins award from professional scientific society

By Robin Arnette
March 2011

Humphrey Hung-Chang Yao, Ph.D.

Yao leads the Reproductive Developmental Biology Group within the LRDT. He joined NIEHS in August 2010. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Humphrey Hung-Chang Yao, Ph.D., has been at NIEHS for only six months, but his exciting research on the fetal origins of adult diseases has led the American Society of Andrology (ASA)( Exit NIEHS to grant him one of its highest accolades. Yao, a principal investigator in the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology (LRDT), will receive the 2011 Young Andrologist Award during the upcoming ASA meeting April 2-5 in Montreal.

The award, sponsored by the Texas Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Endocrinology, P.A., is given to an active ASA member, 45 years old or younger, who has made significant contributions to the field of andrology - a branch of medicine that deals with male diseases and the male reproductive system.

"The awards committee solicits nominations from ASA members," Yao said. "It is an honor to receive recognition from my peers."

Going where the research leads

Yao came to NIEHS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he still holds an appointment as an associate professor in the Department of Comparative Biosciences. He originally trained as a physiologist and developmental biologist, but his research interests in testis development kept pointing him toward andrology and toxicology.

"I wanted to understand if genetic mishaps that occur during fetal development or in utero exposure to a certain chemical, could make a person more susceptible to reproductive problems," Yao explained. "There is an increasing trend of fertility problems in the U.S. and other developed countries, many of the cases with unknown causes. These problems could be a result of genetic defects, environmental exposure to harmful chemicals, or both."

In his current research, Yao uses mouse models to figure out the fundamental process of testis development in embryos. By manipulating various genes in the fetal testis, his group identified several genetic factors that were critical for testis development during fetal life. The results of one of those mutation experiments led to the testicles of a newborn mouse being underdeveloped. When the mouse matured, it produced fewer sperm. Yao said that he's now following up those investigations with environmental exposure studies.

He added, "We're exposing normal pregnant mice to different endocrine disruptors to see if we can re-create the problems in the embryos that we saw in the genetic model. If we are able to generate similar results, the findings would suggest that genetic factors and environmental exposures could affect the same developmental pathway."

The American Society of Andrology (ASA)

Comprised of more than 775 members from around the world, the ASA is a partnership of scientists and clinicians whose specialties include male reproduction, endocrinology, urology, anatomy, gynecology/obstetrics, biochemistry, animal science, molecular and cell biology, and reproductive technologies. Founded in 1975, the ASA encourages a multi-disciplinary approach to promote scientific interchange and knowledge about the male reproductive system.

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