The scientist in society

A conversation with S.K. Dey

Bill Snyder
Published: August, 2008

S. K. Dey, Ph.D.
Photo by Dana Johnson
Sudhansu K. Dey, Ph.D., is the Lova Riekert Chair and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati, and director of the Division of Reproductive Sciences at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The former director of the Division of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (he moved to Cincinnati in July 2008), Dey received the 2008 Carl G. Hartman Award from the Society for the Study of Reproduction for his creative and significant contributions to the field.

After receiving his doctorate in physiology from the University of Calcutta, Dey completed his postdoctoral work in reproductive biology at the University of Kansas. He was a member of the faculty there for nearly 30 years before coming to Vanderbilt in 2002. Recently, he shared his thoughts about the importance of developmental biology in understanding human disease, and challenges to the scientific enterprise in the United States.

What do you consider to be your most important scientific contributions to date?

The most significant contribution from our group is the establishment of a novel concept that during early pregnancy, a short delay in the attachment of the embryo to the wall of the womb adversely affects later developmental processes leading to defective feto-placental growth and poor pregnancy outcome.

The state of uterine receptivity, also termed the window of implantation, lasts for a limited period, and it is only during this time that the womb is conducive to support normal embryonic growth. Therefore, the quality of implantation determines the quality of pregnancy and fetal well-being; failure to achieve on-time implantation is a risk factor for an adverse pregnancy outcome.

The birth of this concept is the result of a series of genetic and molecular studies that used genetically engineered mouse models.

Why is developmental biology critical for understanding human disease?

There is emerging evidence for an association between early development and the onset of diseases such as coronary and heart diseases, obesity and diabetes and osteoporosis in adult life. The quality of pregnancy is a critical factor, since subtle changes during in utero fetal life can have profound consequences later in life.

Early onset of intrauterine growth restriction, recurrent abortion, preeclampsia (a hypertensive disorder of pregnancy) and preterm delivery are important developmental and reproductive health issues, and are associated with uterine and placental deficiencies. A transient postponement of blastocyst attachment in mice produces detrimental ripple effects throughout pregnancy, indicating that one cause of these end results is defective implantation.

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