Research in the Division of Reproductive Sciences focuses on understanding the neural and hormonal mechanisms controlling reproductive function, primarily in females. Projects span the continuum of reproduction that begins with egg/sperm development, and ends with birth and the nursing of offspring. Division scientists are conducting basic research that will underlie advances in the search for the next generation of specific, reliable contraceptives, novel treatments of infertility, and therapeutics for disorders associated with pregnancy and perinatal health.
Scientists are testing selective steroid receptor modulators and other factors that may control events prior to fertilization, including oocyte maturation, ovulation and gamete transport in the reproductive tract. Other researchers are investigating the function of the ovary in its post-ovulatory phase, the formation of the endometrial tissue essential for initiation and maintenance of intra-uterine pregnancy, and the factors that cause many women to go into early labor and deliver babies of low birth weight who are at risk for health problems. Still other laboratory teams are studying the brain's role in reproductive processes and unraveling the interaction between the hypothalamus in the brain and the pituitary gland that controls fertility.
The division also includes a unique research-oriented assisted reproductive technology (ART) program using nonhuman primates. This program has produced several world "firsts" in monkey reproduction. Recently, primate embryonic stem cells (ESCs) were produced by reprogramming monkey fibroblasts using somatic cell nuclear transfer into enucleated eggs and culturing cells from resulting blastocysts. This method offers potential for generating immunologically acceptable ESCs for individual animals (and ultimately patients if applicable to humans), which can be evaluated for differentiation into various cell types for treatment of many diseases characterized by loss of cells or cell function (e.g., diabetes, heart failure, neurodegenerative disorders).
Most recently, methods were validated for transfer of the meiotic spindle (with its attached chromosomes, and hence all nuclear genes) from a mature primate egg, to another enucleated egg, followed by successful fertilization, pregnancy and healthy offspring. This techniques would provide a valuable option for preventing the transmission of mitochondrial DNA mutations from the mother, since spindle transfer leaves behind the mitochondria in the cytoplasm. Thus, the offspring following ART would be free of risk of maternal mutations in mitochondrial DNA, but still be the authentic biologic child of the parents. Mitochondrial DNA mutations result in several human diseases that are currently incurable. Spindle transfer, if replicated and proven safe in studies on human eggs, could provide a cure."
"The division, in combination with researchers in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at OHSU, is the only program that includes a Specialized Cooperative Center Program in Reproduction and Infertility Research (SCCPIR) and a Contraceptive Development Research Center (CDRC), both sponsored by the NIH, NICHD. Investigative efforts in the centers use nonhuman primates in translational studies seeking to understand the neurologic, endocrine and local mechanisms controlling fertility during the menstrual cycle and to develop novel therapies for treating infertility or to prevent pregnancy in women. Most recently, division scientists joined a NIH-supported consortium of biophysical, biological and clinical researchers to begin an oncofertility program designed to generate therapies for maintaining or restoring fertility in women undergoing treatment for cancer. Division scientists collaborate with research-oriented pharmaceutical companies in these efforts, and actively train the next generation of researchers in women's health through national and international programs.