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Environmental Factor, September 2015

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Endocrine disruption pioneer Lou Guillette remembered

By Eddy Ball

Guillette with baby gator

“If the environment isn’t healthy for a baby alligator or a baby dolphin, it probably isn’t healthy for us as well,” Guillette said. (Photo courtesy of the Heinz Foundation)

Guillette with grown gator

Guillette posted a collection of photos online of wildlife and his research in the field. Several show him and his crew braving the snapping jaws of large alligators in the course of their studies. (Photo courtesy of Louis Guillette)

The death of Louis “Lou” Guillette, Ph.D., Aug. 6 shocked and saddened colleagues worldwide in the environmental health and reproductive endocrinology communities.

Guillette was a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and director of the Marine Biomedicine and Environmental Sciences center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). His long list of honors included a Heinz Award, and his appointments as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor, and endowed chair of marine genomics at the South Carolina Centers of Economic Excellence.

Health scientist administrator Jerry Heindel, Ph.D., who oversees the NIEHS endocrine disruption grants portfolio, summed up what a number of colleagues, whose lives Guillette touched, had to say about his life and work.

“I can't believe it,” Heindel said when he received the news. “What a sad day, but what an incredible career and huge impact he had on us all.”

A longtime NIEHS grantee, Guillette’s cause of death was a bacterial lung infection, worsened by a weakened immune system from an eight-year course of treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Health effects of chemical exposures — from alligators to humans

The hallmarks of Guillette’s career included his ability to translate findings about endocrine disruption from species such as alligators to the harmful effects in humans. He was also known for his focus on the effects of chronic low-dose chemical exposures, and his tireless advocacy for prevention.

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Guillette was among the members of the expert panel that issued a consensus statement on the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in 2006 (see story) that helped spark controversy over its potentially harmful health effects. The panel’s conclusions led to a surge of research on BPA in products ranging from water bottles to medical tubing.

At the time of his death, Guillette was leading a prospective clinical study of expectant mothers, as well as patients at a fertility clinic, to determine what effects environmental contaminants may be having on their reproductive health.

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An outstanding and beloved scientist, teacher, and individual

Tributes published in the Gainesville Sun, Orlando Sentinel, and Charleston Post and Courier featured a number of testimonials from his family, as well as colleagues and students at MUSC and the University of Florida, where he taught from 1985 to 2010 and was named Teacher of the Year in 2008.

“He had a wonderful way of taking difficult and important scientific concepts and making them accessible to reporters, advocates, and the public,” added Gwen Collman, director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.

Guillette’s outstanding scientific achievements, mentoring, and communication skills, as well as his sense of humor, were highlighted by his personal and extensive scientific families at a celebration of Lou’s life. The celebration was hosted by his widow, Elizabeth (Buzzy), a retired anthropologist, at the family’s home on Johns Island, South Carolina, near the estuaries where he conducted recent wildlife studies.

He is also survived by his two sons, John Vittands and Matt Guillette, and two daughters, Kaiya Hefle and Tammy Mandell. Not surprisingly, three of his children are pursuing careers in science.

(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Guillette and crew Woodruff

In this photo of his study group in 2014 at the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, Guillette, crouching, is right at home in the wild with students and colleagues. (Photo courtesy of Louis Guillette)

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