CoEE endowed chair to study link between birth defects, environment

Charleston Regional Business Journal
July 14, 2010

A renowned toxicology expert is bringing his research into the environmental causes of birth defects to the Medical University of South Carolina through the state’s Centers of Economic Excellence program.

Dr. Louis Guillette will hold the endowed chair in marine genomics at MUSC and lead the Marine Genomics Center of Economic Excellence, a partnership among MUSC, the University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.

Guillette worked at the University of Florida, where he was the distinguished professor of biology, and as a professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland.

Guillette and his research team will study how various environmental factors can lead to birth defects in wildlife and humans. His work involving wildlife, especially alligators, is internationally recognized.

Dr. Louis GuilletteGuillette also will partner with researchers in MUSC’s department of obstetrics and gynecology and department of pediatrics to perform pilot studies on the developmental health of babies.

“We will use our molecular ‘toolbox’ to … begin to understand altered health outcomes in babies like we do in various wildlife species,” Guillette said. “One major advantage of this approach is that wildlife are ‘real populations’ — living in the same world we do with the same level of complexity, versus the world of the laboratory.”

The Marine Genomics CoEE is located within the Hollings Marine Laboratory. Researchers at the CoEE analyze physiological adjustments in animal and plant genetics that result from environmental changes.

Guillette’s research could help lead to the development of new testing procedures that prevent or treat health problems caused by environmental factors.

“Without this support and endowment for program and research development, I would not have considered coming to MUSC and the Hollings Marine Lab,” Guillette said. “Having funds to support innovative and exploratory research was key.”

Guillette said the collaborative nature of the Marine Genomics CoEE and the intellectual environment at MUSC were also draws.

“The unique opportunity to work in a medical school setting and in a marine laboratory at the same time, and to have major resources to do so because of the partnership between MUSC and a major government facility like the Hollings Marine Lab was a major attraction,” Guillette said. “Also, there is a major commitment at MUSC to understand how environmental factors influence health outcomes that start during pregnancy. This includes support of studies doing cutting edge molecular work with diverse species – from humans to various wildlife species.”

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