View largeDownload slide View largeDownload slide Dr S.K. Dey is the Lova Riekert Chair and Professor of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation and has directed the Division of Reproductive Sciences there for the past 9 years. Dr Dey's laboratory has investigated the mechanisms of embryo–uterine interactions during embryo implantation, endocannabinoid signaling during early pregnancy, and origins of reproductive carcinomas for over 40 years. He has published more than 350 articles, several of which have been published in Biology of Reproduction [1–6]. Dr Dey has mentored many talented students and developing investigators from all stages of education in the reproductive sciences. Dr Dey received the Carl G. Hartman Award from the Society for the Study of Reproduction in 2008 and received the IVI Foundation Award for the Best Clinical Research Record in Reproductive Medicine in 2009. We asked him about his outstanding research career and the importance of mentoring. How did you become a scientist? I grew up at the outskirts of Calcutta, and the youngest of 12 siblings. We were surrounded by nature. This meant fishing, foraging, and raising chickens, ducks, pigeons, and livestock, like goats and cows. I became interested in how these animals bred and developed in the womb. I searched for answers to many curiosities by catching and dissecting frogs to see how their lungs collapsed after puncturing and breeding my flock of pigeons to analyze their feather color and alignment. I was fortunate that my parents insisted all of us pursue advanced education. I obtained my Intermediate of Science degree (2-year) from the Scottish Church College and my Bachelor's from the Presidency's College in Physiology Honors (3-year). Presidency College was known for its curricula and vigor. Here, I learned my true passion for physiology thanks to the inspired teachings of Professors Debajyoti Das and Prafulla Karmaker. I continued my Master's degree in Physiology at the University College of Science in Calcutta and pursued my PhD there in Physiology. Dr Mrityunjoy Mukherjee was my first mentor, and it was from him that I developed my curiosity and passion for basic science research. He focused on the philosophy behind science and tasked me to really think about physiology and how it related to larger concepts of life. I carried this mentality throughout my career and as a result, I have wandered incredible paths of enquiry and discovery. When did you first become interested in reproductive biology and why? Reproductive biology was specifically interesting to me because of my experiences growing up in India. The population growth was immense and famine shaped our lives. I sought a way to help my country by developing better contraceptive approaches. This drive, in tandem with my natural curiosity for reproductive processes, inspired me to pursue research in reproduction when I completed my master's degree. At the entrance to my PhD studies, my mentor passed away within 6 months. This loss was difficult for me to process, but I was determined to persevere and was fortunate to land in Dr Deb's lab. He instructed me to pursue independent projects. This experience taught me how to research independently through ingenuity and resourcefulness to support my projects. Under these limiting resources, I was still fortunate to publish two papers in the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, a highly respected journal in reproduction at that time from the United Kingdom. Who were past scientists and mentors who inspired your research and influenced your career path? Professors Das and Karmaker inspired my passion for physiology during my bachelor's degree. Dr Mukherjee, my first mentor in my PhD studies, taught me the value of scientific discussion and philosophy. After finishing my PhD degree, I joined Dr Zeev Dickmann's lab at Kansas University Medical Center (KUMC) for my postdoctoral training as a Ford Foundation Fellow. There I met Jim Hurt, a research assistant and an expert in preimplantation embryo manipulation and embryo transfer. He helped me learn these techniques, and I mastered these skills working early and late hours in the lab. Dr Bob Christ was an MD/PhD at KUMC in the OB-GYN department, and one of my first collaborators and friends. His encouragement and advocacy were instrumental in securing my first appointment as a junior faculty in this department. The chairman, Dr Kermit Krantz, was quite supportive of basic science research and respected Bob's request to recruit me. This department also had two respected scientists, Drs. Johnson and Greenwald. They were tremendously helpful in facilitating my research when there were no startup funds available from the university. In time, I secured NIH funding and started to expand my program. Over the course of my career, I had the good fortune to meet so many great scientists in reproduction and related fields. It is very hard to pinpoint specific mentors who influenced my career path, but a few stand out. I always embraced the good, impactful science from these individuals. I met Anne McLaren from UK, Alexander Psychoyos in France, MC Chang, Koji Yoshinaga, and Brigid Hogan here in the United States. I was always amazed by these people and their contributions and service to the scientific community. I had the opportunity to meet Anne McLaren when she visited KUMC when I was a postdoc. I was thrilled that she was coming. Everyone knew who she was, like a celebrity. When I asked if she could show me how to recover embryos from the oviduct, she said of course. She did it so quickly and smoothly, I had to ask her to repeat the procedure, because I couldn’t follow. She was very kind and took the time to show me again. We met later when I was traveling to India to visit my family before beginning my faculty position at KUMC. She arranged for a luncheon talk in her lab. I met her on several occasions thereafter and we became close. Her generosity and sharp mind struck me and have continued to inspire me throughout my career. I wanted to work on uterine implantation and I turned to Alexander “Aleko” Psychoyos for his studies in uterine receptivity for implantation. I had a hard time initially to really understand this unique event during pregnancy. He sat down and spent hours with me during different meetings. Ultimately, I grasped the approach and applied it in much of my research with a different twist. Koji Yoshinaga has been a staunch supporter of my research for years in his position at the NIH. I learned about delayed implantation and uterine receptivity from him as well. His interests closely align with my own studies in implantation, and I regularly communicate with him on exciting projects. Brigid Hogan is known for her work in developmental biology embracing morphogen and signaling pathways. I collaborated with her when I was still at Kansas and she was at Vanderbilt; we studied the influence of morphogen and growth factors on embryo implantation. She also influenced my decision to move to Vanderbilt in 2002. Looking back, what are the one or two decisions you made during your career that had the most impact? As a faculty member at KUMC, I continuously worried about my job and the growth of my research program. Funding was becoming difficult to secure and the trends I noticed in administrative leadership concerned me. When my tenure situation became tenuous, I contemplated leaving in favor of another university. When KUMC discovered I was considering another position, Dean Lowman opened up discussion to see what could be done to keep me there. With a few adjustments, I decided to stay. I think that decision was wise, since KUMC was known for its center of excellence in reproduction. After more than three decades at KUMC, I felt I needed a new environment. Fruitful collaborations with Brigid Hogan exposed me to the beautiful campus and the resourceful research facilities at Vanderbilt. Brigid Hogan and Ray DuBois asked Dr Arnold Strauss, who was at that time chair and head of Pediatrics and Vanderbilt Children's Hospital, to recruit me there. By 2002, I completed the move to Vanderbilt, where I stayed through 2008 and expanded my collaboration to great extent in other fields such as gynecological cancer and proteomics. What is the most important scientific accomplishment that you think you have made so far? One of the highlights of my research has been the discovery of defective implantation that creates adverse ripple effects. These ripples continue through the course of pregnancy, leading to maternal/fetal mortality and morbidity. Through genetic, molecular, and cell biological approaches, we confirmed that any disturbance in uterine receptivity, embryo orientation, or polarity of the epithelium can disrupt implantation. These disruptions can compromise or even terminate pregnancy. We are still trying to tease apart the critical phases of the dynamic events of the implantation process. Whether my research will have any translational influence, time will tell. What has been your philosophy in training and mentoring young scientists? Any individual in a research lab must always ask questions. They cannot accept anything or rest on what appears to be true. There is always more to learn. I was inspired by my PhD mentor's morning ritual: I would arrive early and sit in his office to chat about science. He said it was important to think about the questions and the context. Throughout my career as an investigator and mentor, I keep an open door policy and ask my trainees how their hypotheses relate to biology as a whole and how their findings relate to the big picture of conceptual contributions. My philosophy is like MC Chang's: swim or sink. Young scientists must be willing to work hard, sacrifice, and innovate. During my postdoctoral fellowship, I arrived at the lab at 3 am to collect 4-cell embryos and culture them to see their developmental potential to blastocysts. These observations led me to later discover that embryos cultured in groups in small volumes of media grow superior to embryos cultured singly in a larger volume of medium. During the day, I worked on my mentor's research, but once the work day was finished, I stayed in the lab to practice techniques or focus on independent projects. I was lucky to have an environment of congeniality with other technicians, postdocs, and investigators who supported me and tried to help when they could. They all knew my reputation as a hard worker, and that I would come through for them should they ever need anything, whether it was a reagent or my time and techniques. What do you consider the greatest breakthroughs in the field of reproductive biology and why? MC Chang's revolutionary preclinical research on in vitro fertilization (IVF) in several animal models established the basic steps to the first successful IVF baby, Louise Brown, by Bob Edwards, PhD, and Patrick Steptoe, MD. Bob Edwards was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine. Chang also contributed to the development of female contraception working in collaboration with Gregory Pincus at the Worcester Foundation. He discovered that progesterone prevents ovulation and this led to the discovery of female contraception that is perhaps the biggest gift to save the explosive human population growth and provide choices for family planning. What do you see as the biggest challenges for young researchers entering the field of reproductive biology today? Training is different depending on the lab. Every postdoc who comes to my lab has much to learn when it comes to how they think. Instilling the constant question of “why” helps my mentees build their own productive research programs and it helps with the rest of life too. This inquisitiveness should be established in all scientific programs, regardless of institution or country. Young researchers must be reminded that if they lack passion and love for science, they should not take this as a career path. Funding is another problem that affects us all. Without consistent support for research from the NIH and other agencies, institutions hesitate to offer resources because of the potential expenses they would have to offset. There is a constant pressure to secure multiple grants. When labs are pinched, there are fewer available positions for hopeful researchers just beginning their careers. Academic institutions and research enterprises must recognize that investment in research is a moral obligation for the rise of the next generation of scientists working alongside the senior scientists. Would you enter this career again? Reproductive biology is my life and my passion. I think about my science all the time, no matter where I am or who I am with. I would choose this field many times over. I have been in this field for four decades and I never feel boredom with my research. This spirit keeps me coming to lab 7 days a week, and I am proud to say that all my postdocs and students follow the same routine. References 1. Sun X, Ito J, Potter SJ, Dey SK. Extragonadal oocytes residing in the mouse ovarian hilum contribute to fertility. Biol Reprod 2017; 96: 1060– 1070. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 2. Sun X, Wang H, Okabe M, Mackie K, Kingsley K, Kingsley PJ, Marnett L, Cravatt BF, Dey SK. Genetic loss of Faah compromises male fertility in mice. Biol Reprod 2009; 80: 235– 242. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 3. Tranguch S, Chakrabarty A, Guo Y, Wang H, Dey SK. Maternal pentraxin 3 deficiency compromises implantation in mice. Biol Reprod 2007; 77: 425– 432. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 4. Matsumoto H, Daikoku T, Wang H, Sato E, Dey SK. Differential expression of ezrin/radixin/moesin (ERM) and ERM-associated adhesion molecules in the blastocyst and uterus suggests their functions during implantation. Biol Reprod 2004; 70: 729– 736. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 5. Julian J, Das SK, Dey SK, Baraniak D, Ta VT, Carson DD. Expression of heparin/heparan sulfate interacting protein/ribosomal protein l29 during the estrous cycle and early pregnancy in the mouse. Biol Reprod 2001; 64: 1165– 1175. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed 6. Passavant C, Zhao X, Das SK, Dey SK, Mead RA. Changes in uterine expression of leukemia inhibitory factor receptor gene during pregnancy and its up-regulation by prolactin in the western spotted skunk. Biol Reprod 2000; 63: 301– 307. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS PubMed © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Society for the Study of Reproduction. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Biology of Reproduction – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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