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Dr. Paul Cooke Named to First Endowed Chair
Position Highlights Prominent Reproductive Biology Group

[Dr. Paul Cooke]Dr. Paul Cooke, veterinary biosciences, has been selected to hold the new Field Chair in Reproductive Biology, the first endowed chair at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“This prestigious appointment acknowledges Paul’s status as an international leader in research into the basic mechanisms of reproduction,” says Dr. Herbert Whiteley, dean of the College. “It also raises the profile of a constellation of faculty at our college doing important work in reproductive biology.”

The endowed chair is part of an estate gift from Mrs. Thanis “Billie” Alexander Field, a 1929 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This bequest funds the chair as well as research in our College and the medical college in Chicago. A lifelong cat lover with concerns about animal welfare, Mrs. Field was very interested in supporting research that could address the problem of companion animal overpopulation.

“What makes a testis produce sperm? How does a uterus grow and respond to hormones? The answers to these basic questions will underlie all subsequent research that could lead to clinical applications for fertility and contraceptive problems in any mammalian species,” explains Dr. Cooke.

Dr. Cooke’s research examines such issues as the role played by steroid hormones in the development and function of male and female reproductive organs, the impact of toxins on reproduction, and estrogen regulation of adipose tissue.

Dr. Cooke joined the College as an assistant professor in 1987. He was promoted to associate professor in 1993 and full professor in 1998. He holds a doctorate in endocrinology from the University of California at Berkeley and completed a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at the University of California at San Francisco.

In 1996 he received the Young Andrologist Award, presented by the American Society of Andrology to an outstanding U.S. scientist under age 40 working in male reproductive biology. He was named a University Scholar, the highest honor bestowed upon young faculty at the University of Illinois, in 1997. The College has several times honored him for excellence in research.

He is an internationally acknowledged expert in his field, having given more than two dozen invited presentations and more than 40 seminars, authored more than 100 articles or book chapters, served on the editorial boards of six prominent journals in his field, and reviewed manuscripts for more than 30 U.S. and international publications. He has actively served on numerous committees for NIH and professional organizations. He was assistant director of the NIH Training Program in Reproductive Biology at the University of Illinois from 1999 to 2003.

Dr. Cooke’s laboratory has had NIH support every year since 1991. In June NIH awarded a $4.5 million grant to five Urbana investigators—including Dr. Cooke and Dr. Susan Schantz, also veterinary biosciences—to study the health effects of consuming the soy phytoestrogen genistein. He has also attracted funding from many other governmental and private organizations, ranging from the USDA to the United Soybean Board and Select Sires, a commercial producer of bovine semen.

A portion of the Field chair money will go toward increasing technical help in Dr. Cooke’s laboratory and enabling students to attend professional meetings.

His lab currently supports a full-time technician, three graduate students, one post-doctoral researcher, and three undergraduate students. Two more scholars will join his lab later this year.

In addition, the Field gift supports a lectureship series and graduate student fellowships in the Department of Veterinary Biosciences.

Veterinary Biosciences is home to seven senior and junior faculty members working in the area of reproductive biology on topics such as molecular mechanisms in implantation of the fertilized ovum, essential and toxic roles of estrogens in male reproductive development, and the role of circadian rhythms in neuroendocrine regulation of reproduction. They and others in the department also participate in the NIH Training Program in Reproductive Biology and provide leadership for the NIH Training Program in Endocrine, Developmental and Reproductive Toxicology at the University of Illinois.