The Baskin Lab Begins: A 25-year Collaboration

Celebration cupcakes

The collaboration between Gerald Cunha, PhD and Laurence Baskin, MD began one day approximately a quarter of a century ago when, after reading some of Dr. Cunha’s work, Dr. Baskin decided to drop in and introduce himself.

“That’s my recollection,” says Dr. Cunha “he just walked into my lab and we sat down and started talking. It was not a random thing. He had read some of my papers and decided to come after me…We started chatting and there was an immediate meeting of the minds.”

Dr. Baskin had a keen interest in bladder development and Dr. Cunha was writing ground breaking papers on the interaction between the epithelium (uterine lining) and stroma (tissue of the surrounding uterine wall), and it became evident that the same approach could be applied to understanding bladder development. As Dr. Baskin discussed his clinical work and need for discovery, the relationship began to solidify.

“He brought in fellows to the lab who spent time during their research years,” explained Dr. Cunha. “We’d show them the basic techniques and they’d continue, doing a marvelous job. That’s where it all started.”

As the lab applied technologies learned from research on the prostate gland and female reproductive tract, they met with great success. “We were incredibly productive. Every time someone was in the lab, data would just start pouring out.”

What followed from a singular focus on bladder, grew to diverse topics resulting in a series of formative grants and dozens of peer reviewed papers—over 70 with joint authorship between Drs. Cunha and Baskin.

In the late 1990s, the lab began to focus on questions concerning the development of external genitalia. The cross-over interests grew from Dr. Baskin’s surgical practice where he had a long-established interest in sexual differentiation which melded with Dr. Cunha’s work on external genitalia in spotted hyenas. And again, they met with incredible productivity.

Their seminal work on external genitalia in several species, including human, garnered international recognition. Recent studies on formation of external genitalia in humans has revealed entirely new and unexpected developmental mechanisms. This has encouraged numerous mentees, postdoctoral scholars and students to begin—and launch successful careers—all from the shoulders of this collaboration. Dr. Cunha elaborates that “one of the joys of our collaboration is reviewing new and exciting results of our young fellows and postdocs, the very private moment of discovery when it can be said that only we know this new fact that will make a difference in the lives of children.”