Robin Skory, a sixth-year student in the Medical Scientist Training Program, looks to understand how the physical environment affects ovarian physiology and pathology.
Skory joined the lab of Teresa Woodruff, PhD, chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology-Fertility Preservation, after her first two years of medical school to study the development of ovarian follicles and the environment in which they grow.
The lab’s research team uses a three-dimensional culture system that supports the formation and development of ovarian follicles in vitro to better understand follicle development and provide new tools for fertility preservation. For her dissertation, Skory decided to expand this system’s capabilities.
“By extending the system, I hoped to better understand the process of ovulation, hormone synthesis and disease processes such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS),” Skory said. “The findings of these studies have implications for future contraceptive development and provide a novel way to study ovarian disease.”
The first part of her work focused on developing a system in which eggs are ovulated in a petri dish. Earlier studies by the Woodruff lab suggested that follicles themselves were capable of ovulating outside of the ovarian environment. Once completed, the system allowed Skory to observe reproducible ovulation within a petri dish in real-time, allowing future investigators to screen contraceptive agents and better understand the process of ovulation.
The other part of her research concentrated on how changes in the physical environment affect hormone synthesis. The lab’s unique 3D system allowed her to change the surroundings of the environment while follicles grew. Results of these studies suggest that firm environments alter the development of ovarian steroids, which may affect everything from aging to the development of disease.
Skory’s goal as a future physician-scientist is to improve our understanding of ovarian pathology, such as in PCOS and infertility.
“Research allows me to ask questions, delve deeply into subjects that I love, and then go after the answers. As a physician-scientist, I plan to see patients with problems related to hormones and fertility, and to develop new methods to treat these disorders.”
As Skory finishes her third year in medical school, she is looking forward to applying to residency in obstetrics and gynecology and potentially a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology.
“I’m not sure what direction my research will go, but it will certainly be centered on female hormones and fertility,” Skory said. “I think it’s exciting to think about my work expanding women’s control over their reproductive health, whether that’s preventing pregnancy or achieving it.”