Orange grove gift to fund gynecology professorship for placental research
Professorship will conduct research that will help scientists understand placenta's role in health outcomes
As one of the first organs formed by a human fetus, the placenta not only plays a pivotal role during pregnancy, but it also impacts health outcomes for children decades after they are born.
A recent gift to the UF College of Medicine’s department of obstetrics and gynecology will support a new professorship dedicated to research that will help scientists understand the role of the placenta in health outcomes and design interventions to help.
The gift, a Florida orange grove valued at about $1 million, was donated by William Leach, MD ’71, and his wife, Virginia Leach.
The retired physician first became interested in placental research during his gynecology residency at UF, when he took a trip to Scotland during his research year.
“The placenta and the heart are two of the first organs a fetus develops, and they are linked in many ways,” he said. “Placental abnormalities can influence the development of the fetal heart and cardiovascular systems in ways that can affect mortality and disability risks.”
He said he and his wife are grateful to have the opportunity to support the UF College of Medicine’s continued studies on reproductive biology.
Under the new professorship, which will be a collaboration between the department of obstetrics and gynecology and the department of physiology and aging, the UF College of Medicine will increase its capacity to study reproductive biology, said John C. Smulian, MD, MPH, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology.
“This generous gift from Dr. and Mrs. Leach will build on the idea that the uterine and placental environment is an early source of information on health and disease,” he said. “Our greatest investment is in our intellectual capital, so this allows us to free up time to explore these areas and focus on these innovations.”
In recent decades, a strong body of evidence has come to light for gynecological researchers that fetal conditions are a major determinant of long-term health outcomes, Smulian said. Some health outcomes believed to be influenced by placental and fetal development include metabolic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular health — the risk for strokes or heart attacks.
Researchers at the UF College of Medicine, such as in the lab of Helen Jones, PhD, an associate professor in the department of physiology and aging, are already making great strides to uncover more of these potential associations between pre-birth placental health and long-term health.