Compelling animal evidence and human epidemiological data have revealed that impairment of fetal organ development has profound consequences on adult health. This concept of "fetal origins of adult diseases" also applies to the reproductive systems where formation of most reproductive organs is completed before birth. Defects in reproductive organ formation manifest as birth defects in severe cases (i.e. pseudohermaphroditism). However, minor abnormalities are often left undetected and become a potential cause of fertility problems and neoplasia when the affected individual reaches adulthood. Our Group is using organogenesis of the gonads and reproductive tracts as the model to understand the basic process of organ formation as well as the potential implication on impacts of endocrine disruptor exposure on reproductive system development in fetuses and fertility in adulthood. Reproductive organs are one of the few organs that exhibit dramatic sex-specific pattern of dimorphic development. This unique pattern of development provides a model system to understand not only the mechanism of sexual differentiation, but also how progenitor cells make decision to differentiate into tissue-specific cell types, the fundamental concept of embryology. Synapses of two major projects are provided below:
Dr. Humphrey Hung-Chang Yao leads the Developmental Reproductive Biology Group in the Laboratory of Reproductive and Developmental Toxicology at NIEHS/NIH at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. Dr. Yao received his doctoral degree at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1999 and then completed his postdoctoral training at Duke University Medical Center in 2002. He became Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Biosciences at University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 2003 and received tenure in 2009. Dr. Yao is the recipient of the Basal O'Connor Starter Research Award from March of Dimes Birth Defect Foundation, Pfizer Research Award, New Investigator Award for the Society for the Study of Reproduction, and Young Andrologist Award from the American Society of Andrology. Dr. Yao joined NIEHS/NIH as a tenure-track investigator on August 9, 2010.