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Environmental Factor, April 2012

Lai discusses DNA methylation at WSA Scholars seminar

By Ian Thomas

Anne Lai, Ph.D.

WSA Scholar Lai (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS scientist Anne Lai, Ph.D., was one of three honored presenters at the 2nd Annual NIH Women Scientist Advisors Committee (WSA) (http://sigs.nih.gov/wsa/Pages/default.aspx)  Scholars Seminar March 2 in Bethesda, Md. Held in Wilson Hall on NIH’s main campus, the series features talks from female recipients of the Fellows Award for Research Excellence (FARE) (https://www.training.nih.gov/felcom/fare)  .

“Winning the WSA scholar award itself was a wonderful honor, but I was thrilled for the chance to give a talk to so many of my fellow women scientists,” said Lai. “It is always a great feeling when your research is recognized, but it’s particularly nice when that recognition comes from such a closely knit group of one’s peers.”

A postdoctoral fellow in the Eukaryotic Transcriptional Regulation Group in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, Lai was named a 2012 FARE winner for her paper, titled “Dynamics of DNA methylation during B lymphocyte activation and differentiation,” a study which examined the impact of epigenetic events on the immune system (see story).  

“We set out to better understand how DNA methylation can influence immune response,” Lai explained. “By tracking the distribution of a specific epigenetic mark in B lymphocytes throughout the course of an infection, we discovered a number of DNA methylation reprogramming events that occurred after immune activation. It is these events that we believe may have an important role in shaping a memory immune response.”

A native of Hong Kong, China, Lai’s family immigrated to California when she was 11 years old. Raised in Los Angeles, Lai completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley before moving to North Carolina, where she earned a Ph.D. in immunology at Duke University and began postdoctoral work at NIEHS.

“Anne has done an amazing job as a member of my group,” said Paul Wade, Ph.D., Lai’s principal investigator. “Her body of work as a whole speaks for itself, but it’s always nice to see someone who works as hard as she does get the recognition for it that she deserves.”

Launched in 1993, the WSA committee was founded to examine and recognize the achievements of women scientists in intramural research. At present, there is at least one WSA representative for each of NIH’s 27 institutes and centers (see text box).

Other presenters included Yurong Song, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow with the National Cancer Institute Center for Cancer Research (http://ccr.cancer.gov/staff/personnel.asp?profileid=13350)  , and Shruti Naik, a research fellow with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/labsandresources/labs/aboutlabs/lpd/mucosalimmunology/Pages/belkaid.aspx)  .

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor)


Duties and activities of WSA members

Like their fellow WSA members, the NIEHS/NTP representatives, biostatistician Grace Kissling, Ph.D., and chemist Suramya Waidyanatha, Ph.D., have the following duties to perform:

  • Hold regular meetings with her Scientific Director in order to advise him/her about issues relevant to women scientists. Attend Lab/Branch Chief meetings to serve as a representative of women scientists. 
  • Inform the Institute's women scientists on issues that will affect them, such as tenure track and staff scientist policy decisions, and solicit their opinions.      
  • Organize meetings for the women scientists, to discuss issues of general concern, or to present programs of general interest.    
  • Serve, or designate an alternate woman scientist, from her own IC, another IC, or even from the extramural community, to serve on tenure-track, tenured scientist, or lab/branch chief IC search committees.
  • Attend WSA committee meetings once a month where issues such as pay equity, family life, and work-related hazards are discussed. 
  • Subcommittees may be established to deal with specific issues, such as monitoring resource allocations, awards, or handling arrangements for lectures.  


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