Tulane profs. find home, labs in the Elm City

When the entire city of New Orleans lost electricity during Hurricane Katrina last month, refrigeration was cut off in Tulane physiology professor Nazih Nakhoul’s laboratory, killing cell lines that he had been growing for years. Since his laboratory was on the seventh floor of his building, flooding caused minimal damage to equipment. But his wife, Tulane physiology professor Solange Abdulnour-Nakhoul, was not so lucky — her laboratory, just down the street from his, was destroyed.

Nearly a month after their work was destroyed, Nakhoul and Abdulnour-Nakhoul — who are both professors at the Tulane Medical School — have settled into a temporary home at the Yale School of Medicine while Tulane struggles to repair the hurricane’s damage. While several students displaced by the Gulf Coast storm have received attention for their presence on campus, few Yalies are aware that the University has taken in the two professors as well.

In an e-mail sent out shortly after Katrina hit New Orleans, Bruce Carmichael, Yale’s associate provost for science and technology, and Kim Bottomly, deputy provost for science and technology, urged University deans, department chairs and business managers to offer research space and other accommodations to displaced Gulf Coast professors if possible. Before the notice went out, cellular and molecular physiology professor Walter Boron offered Nakhoul — a close friend for two decades — space to work in his laboratory.

Neither Nakhoul nor his wife is new to the School of Medicine, as both professors did postdoctoral research at the medical school during the mid-1980s. Nakhoul was also a visiting researcher at Yale in 1995. When the couple arrived at Yale last month, Abdulnour-Nakhoul began working at another School of Medicine physiology lab while her husband started work with Boron.

“Here has always been home to me,” Nakhoul said.

Nakhoul said he, Abdulnour and their two sons evacuated New Orleans the day before Katrina hit after following news of the hurricane’s path for several days. Over the next few weeks they stayed with relatives in Tennessee, Ohio, and Montreal, Canada, while trying to find a place where the two professors could continue their research, he said.

Nakhoul said he and his wife decided to come to Yale because of their long history at the Medical School.

“There were several places that were very accommodating, [but] we’re more comfortable here and we know the department very well,” Nakhoul said.

With the space and equipment supplied by Boron’s laboratory, Nakhoul is continuing research he began at Tulane — studying the transport and regulation of intercellular pH.

Boron said he is happy to have Nakhoul back at Yale, despite the difficult circumstances.

“It’s been good for both parties,” Boron said.

Boron said he and Nakhoul share “common research interests,” and the two had planned to work together on a joint research project before the hurricane struck, so sharing a lab is convenient for both professors’ work.

Though Nakhoul said he and his family “could not have been in a better situation” in terms of their welcome at Yale, he said the hurricane has substantially set back his research.

Robert Alpern, dean of the School of Medicine, said he is concerned Katrina has largely incapacitated the Tulane and Louisiana State University Medical School faculty and administration.

“I know it’s going to be a huge problem for these medical schools, since they rely heavily on clinical revenue and grants to pay their faculty,” Alpern said. “They certainly won’t be able to do research.”

Nakhoul said he and his wife do not know when they will be able to return to Tulane, but for now they have been offered an open-ended invitation to remain at Yale.

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