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The mission of the FI Branch (formerly the Reproductive Sciences Branch) is to encourage, enable, and support scientific research aimed at alleviating human infertility, uncovering new possible pathways to control fertility, and expanding fundamental knowledge of processes that underlie human reproduction. To this end, the FI Branch provides funds for basic, clinical, and translational studies that will enhance our understanding of normal reproduction and reproductive pathophysiology, as well as enable the development of more effective strategies for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of conditions that compromise fertility, with the ultimate goal of promoting a better quality of life for all individuals.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture/NIH Dual Purpose with Dual Benefit Program
- Advances from the FI Branch-Funded Specialized Cooperative Centers Program in Reproduction and Infertility Research (SCCPIR)
- Sperm Regeneration Using Stem Cell Transplantation: A New Approach For Young Cancer Survivors
After puberty, men make sperm continuously; spermatogonial stem cells divide to make more stem cells that ultimately go on to become fully mature sperm capable of fertilizing an egg. Exposure to environmental toxins, including drugs used in chemotherapy, can kill sperm and their precursor stem cells, leaving the cancer survivor infertile. While adult men can bank sperm prior to chemotherapy to preserve their fertility options, boys who have not yet reached puberty do not have that option. In this proof-of-principle experiment using macaque monkeys, investigators tried a different approach: harvesting spermatogonial stem cells of immature animals and transplanting them back to the donor after a regimen of chemotherapy made the animals infertile. The re-introduced spermatogonial stem cells, which carried a molecular identification tag, divided and produced functional sperm that could fertilize eggs and produce embryos. This work suggests that harvesting and re-introducing spermatogonial stem cells might be a way to preserve the fertility of young boys who survive cancer. To read about this study, visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23122294.
- Blocking Estrogen Production Halts Endometriosis Lesion Development
Up to 10% of reproductive-age women suffer from endometriosis—the misplaced growth of tissues similar to those that line the uterus that can result in pain and infertility. Because it is known that high levels of estrogen worsen endometriosis by promoting growth of misplaced tissue called lesions, researchers wondered if inhibiting the production of estrogen could shrink the lesions. To test their theory, they treated baboons with endometriosis with a drug called letrozole, which inhibits an enzyme critical to the production of estrogen. After 6 months of treatment, the drug significantly decreased the level of the enzyme. In addition, lesions in the baboons given letrozole were significantly smaller than before treatment, while lesions in the baboons given a placebo were significantly larger than before treatment. Letrozole, or other drugs that curtail estrogen production, could provide a new approach for treating women with endometriosis. Visit http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23257603 to access the article about this research.
- Branch-Supported Advances
- An Early Origin of Premature Birth
Premature births are far too common and can pose a danger to both the mother and the long-term well-being of the baby. Although doctors understand some factors behind prematurity, not all cases can be explained, and it’s important to know when during pregnancy the problems begin. This study set out to find the early origins of prematurity by studying mice genetically engineered to lack a gene called Trp53. Female mice that lack Trp53 gave birth too early, and the scientists found that many other genes faltered as well. Many of those genes protect the deciduae--the early maternal contribution to the placenta--from oxidative stress. This suggests that very early in pregnancy, possibly at the time of implantation, unhealthy conditions in the mother’s uterus can increase the risk for premature birth. To read more on these findings, visit http://endo.endojournals.org/content/153/9/4568.full.pdf+html.
- Healthy Eggs Need Vitamin A: A Link to Infertility in Endometriosis
Vitamin A, or retinol, is critical to normal fertility in women. In ovarian cells, retinol is converted to ATRA, a product that has been shown to influence the quality of a woman’s eggs. In this study, scientists compared the levels of retinol and its product, ATRA, in healthy women and women with endometriosis. Both groups of women used in vitro fertilization to try to become pregnant. The study found that eggs from women with significantly higher levels of ATRA in the follicular fluid surrounding those eggs produced high-quality embryos, while those with lower levels of ATRA produced embryos less likely to implant and survive. The study also found that women with endometriosis had 50% lower levels of ATRA in their blood and follicular fluid. This study suggests that low levels of ATRA might contribute to infertility in women with endometriosis and offers a possible approach (e.g., increasing vitamin A levels) to improving fertility in these women. To read more on these findings, visit http://rsx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/02/18/1933719113477487.full.pdf+html.
- New Treatment To Jump-Start Follicle Growth
Infertile women who don’t ovulate, even when prompted with hormone injections, face bleak prospects for having a baby using their own eggs. Until recently, scientists have not been able to force immature ovarian follicles to mature to the point where they can respond to ovulation-inducing hormones and produce eggs that can be fertilized. Results of the current study found that a growth factor called R-spondin2, that is naturally present in oocytes, can prompt the maturation of early ovarian follicles in mice when ovaries are cultured in a laboratory dish. When mice were injected with a molecule closely mimicking R-spondin2, their immature follicles matured and could respond to ovulatory hormones by releasing fully mature eggs. R-spondin2 also works on human ovaries: when pieces of human ovaries containing immature follicles were cultured in a dish with Rspondin2, those immature follicles also grew to a more advanced stage. This work provides a possible new approach in treating women who fail to ovulate as a result of inadequate maturation of follicles. To read more on these findings, visit http://www.fasebj.org/content/early/2013/02/13/fj.12-223412.full.pdf+html?sid=28ab1d7d-ab07-4b58-9c86-58823ac955de.
- Scientific Article from FI Branch Staff:
- Lamar, C., Taymans, S., Rebar, R., LaBarbera, A., Albertini, D. F., & Gracia, C. (2013). Ovarian Reserve: Regulation and Implications for Women’s Health. Proceedings of the 2012 NICHD-ASRM Conference. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 30(3), 285-292. Available at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10815-013-9968-2. You can also learn more about the Branch-supported conference, held October 25, 2012, at Ovarian Reserve: Regulation and Implications for Women's Health.
- Upcoming Branch-Organized Conferences:
- Specialized Cooperative Centers Program in Reproduction and Infertility Research Meeting (NIH, Bethesda, MD): May 21-22, 2013; agenda (PDF - 613 KB)
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)-NICHD Workshop (Boston, MA): Determinants of Gamete and Embryo Quality: October 17-18, 2013; agenda (PDF - 307 KB)
- Funding Opportunity Announcements:
- RFA-HD-14-017: Specialized Cooperative Centers Program in Reproduction and Infertility Research (U54)
Expiration date: July 26, 2013
- PA-11-326: Gamete Quality in Natural and Assisted Reproduction (R01)
Expiration date: January 08, 2014