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Leading Biomedical Researcher Joins UW Faculty

January 23, 2015
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Dr. Peter Nathanielsz

One of the world’s foremost experts in the science of how conditions during fetal development shape the lives of humans and animals has joined the faculty of the University of Wyoming.

Dr. Peter Nathanielsz, most recently the director of the Center for Pregnancy and Newborn Research at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, is now the Distinguished Research Professor of Life Course Studies within the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Animal Science.

“The fact that a scientist of Dr. Nathanielsz’s stature has come to UW is a major step forward for the university,” says Bill Gern, vice president for research and economic development. “His field of study is a significant new area of endeavor in the life sciences, and his presence promises to help UW become a worldwide leader in the field.”

Nathanielsz’s decision to come to UW -- after a career that also included work at Cornell University, New York University, the UCLA School of Medicine and England’s Cambridge University -- stems from his long association with Stephen Ford, the Rochelle Endowed Chair in UW’s Department of Animal Science and director of the Center for the Study of Fetal Programming.

The two have collaborated on pioneering research that uses sheep as a model for understanding the impacts of mothers’ health during pregnancy on their offspring, with applications for both livestock and human health. Their research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Because they have demonstrated that sheep are a great model in their own right and for human health, UW has distinct advantages that add to our ability to become a world leader in this burgeoning area of biology,” says Frank Galey, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “We expect life course studies will become a major area for biological research, expanding beyond animals to plants, and UW now is positioned to help lead the way.”

Most recently, research by Ford and Nathanielsz has shown that obesity in ewes gives rise to offspring that also are obese -- potentially leading to other diseases such as Type II diabetes and heart disease. These environmental effects have been shown to last several generations by affecting specific genes through turning them on or off through normal biochemical pathways.

Gern and Galey say there is potential for Nathanielsz and Ford, along with their associated researchers in the Department of Animal Science, to interact with those in the Department of Molecular Biology as well as with units within the College of Health Sciences and the College of Arts and Sciences. The research could have implications for the agriculture industry in Wyoming and elsewhere, as well as the health and longevity of humans worldwide.

Nathanielsz brings with him one of the longest-running program grants at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. This program addresses the effects of poor nutrition in pregnancy on life course animal and human health.

“The potential for stimulating the university’s fundamental and applied research, with multiple sources of funding, is tremendous,” Gern says. “These are exciting times for UW, and the arrival of Dr. Nathanielsz will allow us to grow in new and important ways.”

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