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Pain researcher DeLeo is third incumbent of Given Professorship

Joyce DeLeo, Ph.D., a DMS researcher known for her strong mentorship of graduate students and for her studies of chronic pain, was recently named the Irene Heinz Given Professor of Pharmacology. DeLeo was "shocked" when she learned she had been appointed to the endowed chair. "It's a tremendous honor," she says.

DeLeo is only the third person to hold the Given Professorship; Robert Gosselin, M.D., Ph.D., was the first, in 1964, and Roger Smith, Ph.D., was the second in 1993. Both are now emeritus professors of pharmacology and toxicology. "It is certainly a choice that I applaud," Smith says of DeLeo's appointment.

DeLeo, a former Fulbright Scholar, came to DMS in 1988 as a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of anesthesiologist Dennis Coombs, M.D.—known for developing implantable pumps to deliver pain-management drugs. Previously, DeLeo had studied ischemia—decreases in blood supply due to obstruction or constriction of blood vessels—and its relationship to glial cells, which protect neurons in the central nervous system.

She was new to chronic pain research but welcomed the change. "I was always interested in pain," recalls DeLeo, who earned her Ph.D. in pharmacology at the University of Oklahoma in 1988. "There's a lot of duplicity in the mechanisms of chronic pain and ischemia and neurodegenerative diseases. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great to apply all of my knowledge of glial biology to nerve injury.'"

Investigator: DeLeo's research gained momentum through the 1990s as she studied low-back and chronic neuropathic pain—pain caused by diseases or abnormalities of the nervous system. In 2002, she became the first director of the Neuroscience Center at Dartmouth and vice chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Today, she is the principal investigator for two nine-year grants from the National Institutes of Health that total $7 million.

DeLeo attributes much of her success to the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have worked in her lab over the years. "They bring such energy and such great ideas to the group," she says. In fact, she considers mentoring students and fellows "the highlight of my career" and "the best part . . . of being the director of a lab." Since she expects to be teaching and conducting research for many more years, "hopefully," she adds, "I'll have many more students."

Jennifer Durgin

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