Institute scientists made a strong showing Feb. 6 at the 25th annual meeting of the Triangle Consortium for Reproductive Biology (TCRB) at NIEHS. The event drew about a hundred local researchers from the institute, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and area universities, including Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, and Wake Forest University.
The poster session featured a number of NIEHS scientists, and Fei Zhao, Ph.D., a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Reproductive Developmental Biology Group, led by Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., won the award for the best trainee poster presentation.
Yao was one of the three invited regional speakers, and Kathryn McClelland, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in Yao’s lab, was one of four trainees selected to give an oral presentation.
The annual meeting provides trainees a wealth of opportunities, from networking and discussing their research during the poster session, to learning from local experts and invited speakers. “This is a great experience for trainees, and it also provides a chance to share the work we do here at NIEHS with our peers in the area,” Yao said. “It’s rewarding to work with trainees of such high caliber.”
Immune system influences the timing of birth
Stephen Lye, Ph.D., from the University of Toronto, gave the keynote address, speaking on “Maternal Immune System and Preterm Birth: Mechanism, Diagnostics, and Therapeutics.” His laboratory studies the role of the immune system during placental development and remodeling of the adjacent uterine wall, maintenance of the uterine blood supply to support fetal growth and development, and the timely onset of labor.
Lye described how drugs might be designed to block the immune response and inhibit preterm labor, and how biomarkers may be developed to indicate risk of preterm labor.
From fruit flies to mammals
Yao discussed “New Insights on Mammalian Sex Determination and Differentiation.” He described how long distance-acting testis factors activin B and anti-Mullerian hormone contribute to testis development in mouse embryos.
Elizabeth Ables, Ph.D., from East Carolina University, spoke about how steroid hormones regulate stem cell function in the fruit fly.
The third regional speaker was L. Earl Gray Jr., Ph.D., a research biologist with the EPA Office of Research. He presented his research on the lifelong reproductive effects experienced by male rats exposed in the womb to environmental chemicals that disrupt androgen signaling.
Trainees recognized for research excellence
The research of NIEHS trainees also received recognition at the meeting. As one of four trainees selected to give an oral presentation, McClelland spoke on “Loss of COUP-TFII in Different Interstitial Cell Populations Has Varying Effects on Fetal Testicular Architecture and Development.” Also, five of the six finalists for the best trainee poster were from NIEHS (see text box).
For the third year, the Campion Fund, which promotes basic biomedical research on diseases affecting the human reproductive system, sponsored the awards. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, it is supported by the Phyllis and Mark Leppert Foundation for Fertility Research.
(Kembra Howdeshell, Ph.D., is a health scientist in the National Toxicology Program.)