Louis Guillette earns prestigious Heinz Award

Tony Ciuffo

Sept. 13, 2011

Louis Guillette earns prestigious Heinz Award

His research offers insight into toxic chemicals’ impact on wildlife and human health

PITTSBURGH -- Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation today announced Louis J. Guillette Jr., Ph.D., reproductive biologist, endocrinologist and professor, as a recipient of a $100,000 Heinz Award. Guillette is professor of obstetrics and gynecology and holds an endowed chair in Marine Genomics at South Carolina’s Centers for Economic Excellence at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“Dr. Guillette’s work has focused on the important field of endocrine disruption,” Ms. Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation, said today. “His research on alligators and other marine life created an in-depth model for understanding the effects of toxins in the wild and provides information we need to safeguard people and wildlife.”

Internationally recognized for his groundbreaking research on the impact of toxic chemicals on the reproductive systems of alligators and other wildlife, Guillette is a pioneer in exhibiting how wildlife can function as sentinels for adverse environmental contaminant exposure.

Guillette is a leader in the field of hormone disruption, which has emerged as a major public health threat over the past two decades. He has researched environmental estrogens for years, believing they could be responsible for dropping population levels and reproductive abnormalities in wildlife living in the waters of Florida. In the late 1980s, he and his team discovered that DDT and other chemicals in Lake Apopka in Florida were creating ovarian and genital abnormalities by manipulating their hormones. Later, he demonstrated that even low-level exposures to one or multiple environmental contaminants during critical periods of fetal development can have long-lasting health implications.

His research raised red flags about what potential impacts chemicals may also have on human reproductive health, especially as other researchers have shown that sperm counts have dropped and testicular cancer is on the rise. Guillette’s studies demonstrate that there is a direct link between environmental chemicals and male and female reproductive health.

“I have little doubt that environmental contaminants are a significant part of the reason we are today seeing an increase in many diseases of the reproductive system in wildlife and humans,” said Guillette. “The only question is, What are we going to do about it? ”

Now in their 17th year, the Heinz Awards honor visionaries who have made extraordinary contributions to the environment, a life-long area of commitment for the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. Guillette and nine others are recognized for their significant efforts benefitting the environment. This year’s awards total $900,000.

Often saying that he owes his success to his past teachers, Guillette routinely engages students in his own research; he’s been known to ask them to help capture alligators, turtles, frogs and fish. More than 125 undergraduate students have participated in hands-on research in his laboratory during the past decade.

As part of a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute professorship from 2006 to 2010, Guillette started the G.A.T.O.R. (Group Advantaged Training Research) program, which brings together graduate and undergraduate students to work together in research teams under the guidance of faculty advisors. Guillette is a Fellow of the AAAS and has received honorary professorships from institutions in Japan, the Philippines, South Africa and South America. Prior to his role at Medical University of South Carolina, Guillette was the Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Florida.

About the Heinz Awards

The Heinz Awards annually recognize individuals creating and implementing workable solutions to the problems the world faces through invention, research and education while inspiring the next generation of modern thinkers. While this year the awards focus singularly on the environment, winners were chosen who address the intersection of the environment with one of the other award categories recognized in many previous years, including arts and humanities, human condition, public policy, technology and the economy.

The Heinz Family Foundation began as a charitable trust established by the late U.S. Senator John Heinz. His widow, Teresa Heinz, established the Heinz Awards in 1993 to honor and sustain the legacy of her late husband.

Nominations for the Heinz Awards are submitted by invited experts, who serve anonymously. Award recipients are selected by the board of directors for the Heinz Awards upon recommendation by a blue-ribbon panel of jurors.

In addition to the $100,000 award for their unrestricted use, recipients are presented with a medallion inscribed with the image of Senator Heinz on one side and a rendering of a globe passing between two hands on the other. The Heinz Awards will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on November 15. For more information about the Heinz Awards or the recipients, including photographs, visit www.heinzawards.net.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit www.musc.edu or www.muschealth.com.