ECU postdoc Hale receives NIH fellowship

East Carolina University postdoctoral scholar Benjamin Hale received a prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, the organization announced this month.

The fellowship provides funding to promising postdoctoral candidates who have the potential to become productive, independent investigators in scientific health-related research fields.

East Carolina University postdoctoral scholar Benjamin Hale was awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health. (Contributed photo)

Hale, who joined Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology Associate Professor Chris Geyer’s lab in 2018, is studying how diet affects fertility.

“Approximately one in eight couples experience problems with infertility,” Hale said. “The exact cause of infertility is often unknown. Our lab focuses on the role of omega-3 fatty acids in male fertility. These fatty acids are required for the production of functional sperm, but it is still unclear how omega-3 fatty acids get into the developing germ cell ­(cells that create reproductive cells called gametes) or why they are needed for sperm to swim correctly.”

Hale added that the lab’s work will give researchers a better understanding of how diet can contribute to infertility, allowing doctors to suggest specific dietary changes to treat the condition.

Originally drawn to Geyer’s lab because of his contributions to the field of germ cell biology, Hale said his work has been supported by ECU’s research infrastructure.

“I have benefited greatly from collaborations with different faculty members at the East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute,” he said. “This project was made possible through the generation of a mouse model by (assistant professor) Jessica Ellis, whose expertise in lipid biology has been essential.”

Hale has the goal of one day leading his own lab studying cell metabolism and gamete biology.

“Receiving this fellowship provides an excellent opportunity to pursue a poorly understood area of gamete biology,” Hale said. “I am fascinated by all of the changes that need to occur for a stem cell to eventually turn into a highly mechanical sperm cell. This not only requires molecular signaling, but the generation and orchestration of moving parts. Understanding how diet can affect a sperm’s ability to fill its role as ‘DNA torpedoes’ has wide-ranging implications to different aspects of cell biology.”

“I am delighted to see Ben’s hard work and superb training environment acknowledged by this significant award,” said Kathryn Verbanac, assistant vice chancellor for research development and advancement, and director of postdoctoral affairs. “Ben not only hit the ground running in the laboratory, he also took advantage of our career development activities. The scientific training received from Ben’s co-mentors, along with the additional training resources of ECU and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, will support his continued development toward a successful career as an independent investigator.”

Learn more about the ECU Office of Postdoctoral Affairs online.

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