April 17, 2003
Contact: Megan Fellman at (847) 491-3115 or at
Federal Grant Funds Reproductive Center
EVANSTON, ILL.— Northwestern University has received $5.65 million over five years from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to establish the multidisciplinary Center for Reproductive Research (CRR) at Northwestern.
The center seeks innovative answers to female infertility problems by bridging the areas of reproductive physiology, structural biology, and cancer research.
Center scientists will work closely with physician researchers at the Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine with the eventual goal of transferring basic biological research findings to clinical care and medicine. By gaining a more complete understanding of the hormones, receptors, and signaling molecules that are important to female reproduction, the researchers hope to learn more about diseases associated with reproductive function.
“Reproductive health is intimately tied to the overall health of women,” said Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD, center director and associate professor of neurobiology and physiology. “Our research focuses on ovarian function and uses novel approaches, such as developing synthetic scaffolds, investigating molecular machines, and using crystal structures, to begin unraveling key events associated with reproductive function.”
The center brings together cancer researchers, endocrinologists, and gynecologists from the medical school; reproductive scientists and molecular and structural biologists from the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences; and chemical and biomedical engineers from the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, among others.
Three major projects are under way. One could lead to the creation of egg or oocyte banks, which would allow women undergoing chemotherapy to preserve their reproductive potential. Mature eggs that are frozen cannot be used for infertility treatments because they are destroyed in the freezing process. Immature eggs can be frozen, but they need an artificial environment that allows them to mature to the point where they can be fertilized successfully. Dr. Woodruff is working with Lonnie D. Shea, PhD, assistant professor of chemical engineering, and Ralph R. Kazer, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and an infertility specialist, to develop strategies to provide the synthetic environment needed to support the maturation process.
Two other projects have broad implications regarding follicle development and function. The first, led by Kelly E. Mayo, PhD, professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology, and Ishwar Radhakrishnan, PhD, assistant professor in the same department, is a project investigating the molecular machinery that permits the expression of specific gonadal genes. The third project, directed by Theodore S. Jardetzky, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology, in collaboration with Dr. Woodruff, involves solving the crystal structures of molecules that play a vital role in reproduction. Images of these molecules have been created in three dimensions, using the brilliant X-rays produced by the Advanced Photon Source synchrotron at Argonne National Laboratory.
“Our hope is that by learning how molecules regulate genes and assemble structurally, we may be able to design drugs to help infertile women in whom these molecules are faulty,” says Dr. Woodruff. “All of our projects have structural and biological components as well as clinical and basic science sides. In the area of fertility research, this represents a real departure from business as usual.”
In addition, CRR researchers will work with scientists and physician researchers at the Feinberg School’s specialized center of research dedicated to the study of polycystic ovary syndrome. This syndrome affects approximately 10 percent of all women and is a leading cause of infertility. Like CRR, the center at the Feinberg School also is funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Northwestern’s new Center for Reproductive Research resides within the Center for Reproductive Science, an umbrella organization for the University’s reproductive biology research efforts.