Patricia DeLeon, the Trustees’ Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, has received the 2017 Francis Alison Faculty Award, the University of Delaware’s highest competitive faculty honor.
The award was established in 1978 by the Board of Trustees to
recognize the faculty members who best demonstrate the combination of
scholarship and teaching exemplified by the Rev. Dr. Francis Alison,
founder of the institution that is now UD. The annual award also confers
membership in the Francis Alison Society.
DeLeon, a reproductive biologist and a recognized international
leader in the study of sperm dysfunction and infertility, is truly a
scholar-schoolmaster as Alison was, said Robin W. Morgan, professor and
chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.
In nominating DeLeon for the Alison Award, Morgan described her as
dedicated to research and selfless in sharing her expertise with
students and faculty and with colleagues around the world. Her work as a
teacher and mentor “has been extraordinary,” Morgan said.
“Dr. DeLeon is a research scholar who has made notable and very
significant contributions to her field of study,” she wrote in the
nomination letter. “[She] has also dedicated herself to teaching
students at all levels and to advancing academics in general at the
University of Delaware.”
DeLeon earned her doctoral degree in microscopic anatomy at the
University of Western Ontario and conducted postdoctoral research in
cell biology and genetics at McGill University. Soon after joining the
UD faculty in 1976, she established a research program in human
“Over the years, she has transitioned from a classical human
geneticist to a top-tier molecular biologist,” Morgan said. “As science
advanced, she was never content to stick with what was familiar; rather,
she mastered new approaches and new methodologies and adapted them to
DeLeon conducts research into the genetic and molecular mechanisms of
spermataogenesis, epididymal function and the molecular aspects of
Some of her recent work has identified particles in secretions from
the Fallopian tube that she and her team say could help couples
struggling with infertility. Knowledge of these tiny particles, which
DeLeon and her students termed “oviductosomes,” could improve the
process of in vitro fertilization (IVF), which currently has only a 32
percent success rate.
“There is communication between the sperm and the Fallopian tube that
helps prepare the sperm for its big push into the egg,” DeLeon has said
about the findings.
“We’ve shown that these oviductosomes are carrying critical molecules
that include not only proteins, but also nucleic acids such as RNA and
also lipids. That gives us hope they can be used as vehicles for
improving fertility and the chances of producing healthy embryos and
DeLeon recently was awarded a grant from the Delaware Bioscience
Center for Advanced Technology to develop a method of identifying IVF
embryos with the best chance of resulting in a healthy pregnancy.
In addition to DeLeon’s groundbreaking research, she has served on
numerous advisory panels and has editorial appointments for five
journals. She has received many honors and awards, including the 2007
Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and
Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), administered by the National Science
Foundation and presented at the White House, as well as the 2011
Caribbean Women in Science Medalist award.
At UD, she has taught a variety of courses, from introductory to the
advanced graduate level, and has supervised seven doctoral students, 11
master’s degree students and 12 postdoctoral fellows or visiting
scientists. She has also mentored and supported women and minority
scientists through numerous UD and international programs.
“Perhaps most striking, however, has been Dr. DeLeon’s commitment to
undergraduate research,” Morgan said, citing 16 undergraduates who
completed thesis projects under her guidance and “countless others”—more
than 100—who gained research experience in her lab.
DeLeon has 100 peer-reviewed publications, five book chapters, two
instructor’s manuals, 72 abstracts of presentations at professional
meetings, one issued patent and two pending patents.
A member of the UD Board of Trustees from 1992-2011, DeLeon served
for several years on the University's Commission on the Status of Women.
"I am grateful for this terrific honor,” DeLeon said of her selection
for the Alison Award, “and feel blessed to have been able to interact
with generations of bright students, some of whom have ultimately become
my colleagues and friends."
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson