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Environmental Factor, October 2015

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DeMayo named deputy chief of NIEHS lab

By Robin Arnette

Headshot of Francesco DeMayo

"I’ve known people in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory for many years," DeMayo said. "Now, I get to work with them as collaborators. It’s exciting to be here." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

In August, Francesco DeMayo, Ph.D., stepped into his new role as deputy chief of the NIEHS Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory (RDBL), and head of the lab’s Pregnancy and Reproduction Group.

DeMayo brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new positions. During the 32 years he spent at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, DeMayo worked his way up from a postdoctoral fellowship to professor and held the Cullen Duncan McAshan Endowed Chair.

"We are extremely fortunate to have been able to attract and recruit someone with Dr. DeMayo’s high scientific stature to NIEHS," said RDBL Chief Ken Korach, Ph.D. "Dr. DeMayo is one of the few internationally recognized experts in the field of reproductive biology, and his expertise complements and extends the existing strengths in the RDBL and other groups within NIEHS."

Two organs, one approach

DeMayo’s research interests include examining the hormonal pathways that regulate uterine function, and how the environment regulates the development of lung cancer. Although these two topics appear to be unrelated, DeMayo explained that the gene called secretoglobin family 1A member 1 (SCGB1A1) produces a uterine protein known as uteroglobin. It also produces the Club cell 10-kD protein, or CC10, which is secreted in the lung. Both proteins exhibit potent anti-inflammatory properties and make it possible to develop tools to study lung and uterine biology on a molecular level.

"Embryo implantation in the uterus is a controlled inflammatory response, and a switch from inflammatory to noninflammatory says it’s time for the baby to be born," DeMayo said. "That same inflammation drives a lot of pulmonary diseases, so there’s a core commonality between the two organs."

For that reason, NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D., thought DeMayo would also be a good fit for the NIEHS Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory, so DeMayo holds a secondary appointment in that lab. "We anticipate that while he is at NIEHS, he will continue to make more seminal contributions to the field of reproductive and developmental biology," Zeldin said.

Coming home

As a native of Staten Island, New York, DeMayo’s current position at NIEHS is a homecoming of sorts. He is from the town of Stapleton, the place where, in 1887, Joseph Kinyoun, M.D., used his microscope and newly developed research techniques to confirm the identity of the bacterium that caused cholera in the United States. The one-room Hygenic Laboratory in Stapleton that Kinyoun set up and used for his discoveries eventually became the National Institutes of Health.

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