Up next in our continuing series highlighting the many members of the UCGS lab is Daniela del Gaudio, Ph.D., associate director of the University of Chicago Genetic Services.  Dr. del Gaudio received her PhD. in Clinical Molecular Biology from the University of Naples “Federico II”, Naples, Italy. Shortly after graduation, Dr. del Gaudio joined American Board of Medical Genetics training program at Baylor College of Medicine and became certified in Clinical Molecular Genetics. Prior to joining The University of Chicago Genetic Services, Dr. del Gaudio spent three years as an Assistant Director of the DNA Diagnostic Laboratory and Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

CT:When and why did you first decide that you wanted to work in the field of molecular genetics?

DDG:My interest in human genetics started during my college years when I had the opportunity to do volunteer work with autistic children. This experience sparked my interest in learning more about molecular mechanisms of life and the diseases that are caused by their dysfunction. 

CT:Can you describe a little bit about your background and the reasons that brought you to the United States?

DDG:I did both my undergrad and graduate studies at the University of Naples in Italy. During graduate school, where I studied molecular biology, I had the opportunity to spend a year in the US to further my training at the DNA Diagnostic Lab at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.  There, I worked on the molecular characterization of a novel deletion mutation in the HFE gene in a family with hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) and then assessed the overall frequency of this deletion among HH patients. Through this project I became passionate about diagnostic testing and decided to remain at Baylor after completing graduate school. At that time, the cytogenetics lab was working on implementing Chromosomal Microarray Analysis (CMA), using array-CGH, on prenatal samples, but they were facing some challenges due to the very limited amount of DNA obtained from direct amniotic fluid.  My contribution to this project was to set-up and validates a whole genome amplification protocol which allowed CMA analysis to be performed on uncultured amniocytes leading to more rapid results without the added time of cell culture.  During that time, I learned about the fellowship training in clinical molecular genetics and had the privilege to join this program at Baylor.  The training and the preparation I received there was invaluable. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to train and grow in such a dynamic and exciting environment. I was at Baylor for almost eight years, but when the opportunity to work with Dr. Das at the University of Chicago Genetics Services came up, I felt that it provided me the ability to focus and expand my knowledge of even rarer genetic conditions for which testing is not readily available elsewhere.  Working in this lab has given me the challenges I was looking for as well as the exposure to a very stimulating academic setting.  I often think of returning to Italy, but job opportunities are limited there and I am now well established in the States with my career and family.

CT:If you could start your career all over again, are there things that you would do differently?

DDG:I love what I do, but becoming a clinical geneticist could have been a possible avenue to pursue.  I probably would have enjoyed helping patients and their families understand the causes and the management of their conditions.  I think that could have been incredibly rewarding.

CT:What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

DDG: A veterinarian. I really do love animals.

CT: If you are not in the lab, you are…

DDG: At home watching my daughter take her first steps and say her first word.