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Environmental Factor, October 2015

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Lasker Scholar joins NIEHS

By Robin Arnette

Headshot of Natalie Shaw

In addition to her research duties at NIEHS, Shaw is an adjunct faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Hormones control the physical, mental, and emotional changes that accompany adolescence, but scientists who study pubertal development are finding that a child’s genes and environment affect the process as well. Natalie Shaw, M.D., is one of those scientists interested in understanding puberty, and she joined NIEHS this fall.

In her previous position as a research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Shaw examined the interaction between sleep and hormone secretion during puberty. She will continue that work as a member of the NIEHS Clinical Research Program thanks to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Lasker Clinical Research Scholars Program, which is a joint partnership between NIH and the Lasker Foundation to support a small number of exceptional clinical researchers in the early stages of their careers. The goal of the program is to promote the development of physician-scientists as they transition to fully independent positions. Shaw is the first Lasker Scholar at NIEHS.

The importance of mentors

Shaw is a native of Binghamton, New York, and said she planned to expand her work by looking at the genetics behind the timing of pubertal development. She hopes to figure out why some teenage girls have irregular menstrual cycles in the years immediately following their first period. She said many people had a hand in her success, but one of the most important is fellow NIEHS clinical researcher Janet Hall, M.D.

"Hall was my mentor when I was in Boston, and she thought that taking a clinical research position at NIEHS would be a great opportunity for me," Shaw said.

Hall is also in the process of heading her own research group at NIEHS, and she is looking forward to collaborating with Shaw on clinical studies that affect children’s environmental health.

"Puberty is a key event in human development, yet we know so little about how it occurs normally or in relation to environmental stressors such as obesity, sleep disturbance, and environmental toxins," Hall said. "Despite the inherent difficulties in doing clinical research studies in children, Dr. Shaw has already made important contributions. NIEHS has recruited an extraordinarily talented investigator."

NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., knows the significance of recruiting highly capable clinical researchers to NIEHS. "Our clinical research program is growing, and the quality of our work is on par with some of the best clinical research programs in the country," he said.

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