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Harry Gives Special Guest Lecture at Stereology Workshop

By Eddy Ball
November 2009

Jean Harry, Ph.D.
Following postdoctoral work in an NIH Training Program in Neuropathology, an NIH independent fellowship award in the Biochemistry Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) and a position within the Developmental Disorders Center at UNC-CH, Harry joined NIEHS in 1990 as head of the Neurotoxicology Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS Neurotoxicology Group Principal Investigator Jean Harry, Ph.D.(, delivered the special guest lecture at the 15th Annual Fall Stereology Workshop, "Applications of Unbiased Stereology To Neural Systems" - held October 14-16 in Chicago as a pre-conference event of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Society for Neurosciences. Harry addressed an audience of specialists in the neurosciences, psychology, toxicology and pathology participating in the workshop with her talk on "Heterogeneity of microglia and brain macrophages: Impact on evaluating response to brain injury."

Stereology is a method for quantifying two-dimensional structures from random, systematic sampling to provide unbiased and quantitative data. It is largely concerned with the three-dimensional interpretation of planar, or cross, sections of materials or tissues and offers researchers important insights into biological mechanisms of the brain and nervous system. With their course completed, the trainees join more than 1,600 scientists from academia, government agencies and private industry who have completed the course on using state-of-the-art, design-based stereology for morphometric analysis of biological tissue.

Harry's talk highlighted the roles of microglia in the brain. Also known as the brain macrophage, microglia exhibit variable phenotypes with different roles that may be either beneficial or neurotoxic. Using examples from her work at NIEHS, Harry demonstrated the complicated nature of interpreting changes in morphological evidence of a microglial response, as well as associated neuroinflammatory factors. Along with the negative role often attributed to them during injury in the brain, microglia are also of interest to neuroscientists because of their critical role in the removal of excess or aberrant proteins from the brain, such as amyloid beta, implicated in Alzheimer's disease, and alpha synuclein, mutations in which are present in Parkinson's Disease.

According to Harry, stereology is a valuable tool for helping researchers gain a more complete understanding of the heterogeneity of these cells and for uncovering significant information for evaluating responses to brain injury. A better understanding of these responses can ultimately lead to improved therapeutic interventions for minimizing both short-term and long-lasting brain damage.

Afterwards, Harry said of her experience at the workshop, "I was honored to be given the opportunity to present information regarding the need to understand the cell changes being measured in order to pose the right questions and interpret the data correctly."

In the early 1990s, workshop leader Peter R. Mouton, Ph.D. - a faculty member of the Department of Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and currently director of the Stereology Resource Center - organized the first comprehensive three-day Stereology Workshop( Exit NIEHS in the United States. Shortly thereafter, journal editors and grant reviewers began to favor state-of-the-art stereological methods, and today, stereology is the method of choice for morphometric analysis of biological tissue.

Along with Harry, expert stereologists speaking at the workshop included Arun Gokhale, Ph.D., professor of Materials Sciences and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology; Jeffrey Long, Ph.D., principal investigator in the Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology at the National Institute on Aging; and Kebreten Manaye, M.D., associate professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the Howard University College of Medicine.

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