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Environmental Factor

October 2011

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Guillette honored by Heinz Foundation

By Eddy Ball
October 2011

Louis Guillette, Ph.D.

Guillette has said of his mantra about field studies with reptiles, “If the environment is healthy for them, it's healthy for us... We study the alligator as a sentinel species for ecosystem health and to give us warning if there is potential danger to humans working in the area.” (Photo courtesy of the Heinz Foundation)

Former NIEHS grantee Louis Guillette, Ph.D., became the latest in a long list of NIEHS-funded environmental health scientists to receive the coveted $100,000 Heinz Award( Exit NIEHS, when Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation announced winners of the 17th annual Heinz Awards Sept. 13. The foundation cited Guillette's pioneering research for offering insight into the impact of toxic chemicals on wildlife and human health.

“Dr. Guillette's work has focused on the important field of endocrine disruption,” Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation, said in the Foundation's press release( Exit NIEHS announcing Guillette's award. “His research on alligators and other marine life created an in-depth model for understanding the effects of toxins in the wild and provides information we need to safeguard people and wildlife.”

NIEHS support for research into endocrine disruption

Guillette, who is currently a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and holds an endowed chair in the Marine Genomics Center of Economic Excellence( Exit NIEHS at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), received NIEHS funding during his tenure as a professor at the University of Florida. NIEHS support for Guillette's research in fiscal years 2006 and 2007 resulted in some 15 grant-funded publications( Exit NIEHS on reptilian endocrine systems and endocrine disrupting compounds (read a Public Broadcasting System Frontline interview( Exit NIEHS with Gillette about his work).

Guillette's grant administrator at NIEHS was Jerry Heindel, Ph.D. When he learned of the award, Heindel said of his colleague, “Lou is the perfect choice for this award. It recognizes his groundbreaking work providing solid scientific support for the hypothesis concerning endocrine disruption, focusing on alligators and other reptiles, but always working to translate the information across species including humans. He is unique - who else could hold joint appointments in a marine genomics center and the department of obstetrics and gynecology?”

Heindel also observed that while Guillette personally had only one NIEHS grant, he has worked diligently to stimulate research into endocrine disruption, in general, and mentored many scientists who continue working in the field of environmental health sciences.

The latest honor in a distinguished career in science

As part of a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute professorship from 2006 to 2010, Guillette started the G.A.T.O.R. (Group Advantaged Training Research) program, which brings together graduate and undergraduate students to work together in research teams, under the guidance of faculty advisors. Guillette is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and has received honorary professorships from institutions in Japan, the Philippines, South Africa, and South America. Prior to his appointment at MUSC in 2010, Guillette was a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Florida.

Now in their 17th year, the Heinz Awards honor visionaries who have made extraordinary contributions to the environment, a life-long area of commitment for the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. Guillette and eight others are recognized in 2011 for their significant efforts benefitting the environment. This year's awards total $900,000.

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