Congratulations to SSR member Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, DVM, Ph.D. for her election to the Class of 2021 AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Fellows in the field of Medical Science. The AAAS recognized Cheryl for her research on reproductive biology and endocrine disruption, investigating the way developmental exposure to substances affects humans and animals.
Cheryl is a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri and the MU College of Veterinary Medicine; the first female president of the US Developmental Origin of Health and Disease Society (DOHaD); and author of several papers and a book, The Epigenome and Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (published in 2015) that received the British Medical Association (BMA) 2016 Book Award for Basic Sciences.
We spoke with Cheryl to learn more about her journey and current research.
Cheryl is an animal lover, and it was this passion that led her to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. “The most enjoyable aspects of and the major reason I went into research was to be able to understand the root cause of diseases in animals and how to prevent these diseases,” said Cheryl. She attended the University of Illinois and received a BS and Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. “While I was in vet school, I worked with and had the opportunity to meet the top reproductive biologists, one of whom was Janice Bahr. She was president of SSR then and one of the first women who I met with visibility in STEM. She showed me that women were welcome in this field.” Cheryl then went on to earn a Ph.D. degree in Animal Sciences/Reproductive Biology from the University of Missouri, which led to her professorship.
Cheryl’s current research focuses on the placenta and how it regulates the brain and the impacts of endocrine disruptors. The interest in this research stemmed from a more personal connection. “A member of my family was exposed to Quaaludes while in utero. When she was born, she had no obvious health problems; however, now she is in her 30s and is experiencing debilitating cardiovascular issues and other diseases. This got me thinking about the role of the placenta and what may have caused these longer-term consequences. While it is known for being protective, how the placenta responds to in utero environmental challenges may lead to longstanding health consequences.”
“The placenta might communicate with to the brain through packaged extracellular vesicles (pieces of the cell that contain RNA lipids, proteins, and more). We are in the process of characterizing the cargo contents of these structures and how they might affect fetal brain development. This research can provide a roadmap to inter-relationships between the placenta and developing brain and have potential clinical ramifications.”
Cheryl is currently writing a book about the placenta and recent findings in this area. “It is neat to discover something like this and be able to share the results with others. That is what I love about research – it brings people together for the common good.”
Cheryl also enjoys being a member of the SSR community. “I joined the SSR when I was a veterinary student. As a trainee, SSR allowed me to present my research findings, and I discovered that others were interested in my work! I didn’t know that this was something I could do, and SSR made it possible. I appreciate that SSR supports trainees and early career investigators in their scientific and professional development.”
Her advice to trainees and others looking to advance in their careers: “Build a network of people who can help you. The SSR mentor lunches are a great way to gain information and insight informally. You won’t succeed in a day – it took over more than 20 years to reach this achievement – but everyone has the potential, and SSR can help you reach it.”
“As an AAAS Fellow, DOHaD President, and SSR member, I plan to pay it forward and hold the door open for others, particularly those who are overlooked, including women and underrepresented minorities. It’s great to be recognized and now I am looking forward to seeing where the path takes me.”