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23 MAY, 2023
Women worldwide are delaying childbearing for reasons ranging from higher educational attainment, effective contraception, increased career options, and changes in values and family structures. Advanced maternal age is generally defined as over 35 years old and can play a critical role in adverse pregnancy outcomes. These issues include infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and mortality. In women over 40 years of age, incidence of miscarriage increases more than 30%.
These adverse effects of reproductive aging on fertility and the outcome of pregnancy are becoming more widespread. That’s why Xiaoqiu (Churchill) Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science, was recently awarded a $3.2 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) unit of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study female reproductive aging and uterine health.
Women’s reproductive health research focuses more on the health outcomes of the offspring than it does on the mother’s own health outcomes. Wang’s research focuses on the latter.
“Understanding the precise mechanism by which the female organ ages is a prerequisite for ultimately developing counteracting measures for such a big problem. But in society, most of the attention has been focused on ovarian aging so far,” Wang says.
By contrast, Wang’s research focuses on the uterus. In earlier research, Wang discovered that a gene called Sirtuin 1 is linked to uterine aging in the form of resistance to receptors for progesterone, which is essentially the “pregnancy hormone.” With this new NIH grant, Wang and his research team will be able to take that research to the next level with a single cell multiomics study whereby they can overlay data from multiple levels of biology for a more integrated and comprehensive analysis of uterine aging. The main goal for this grant is to use their previous knowledge of uterine aging to identify new targets that would inform human studies in a subsequent phase of the research.
“Aging is not simple, it’s a complicated process. So we hope to identify cell subpopulations that are also responsible for aging by teasing them out one by one to hopefully uncover the mechanisms for aging,” Wang says.
He plans to use some of the NIH grant funds to implement bioinformatics and machine learning to study several issues related to women’s health and pregnancy outcomes.
“We would like to do heavy data mining from the current public data sets. For example, if we get transcriptome data from uterine cells, which have different disease stages, we can program the computer to actually learn those data. Then, in the future, hopefully, by learning those data, the machine can learn how to diagnose women who have endometriosis, uterine fibroids or even endometrial cancers,” Wang says.