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Winter 2002: 8th issue - **2nd Anniversary**
UIC Awarded $7 Million NIH Grant
For Research in Reproduction


Midwest Correspondent

The University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine has won a $7 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, designating it a Specialized Center for Research in the Reproductive Sciences -- the only one in the Chicago area.

The highly competitive award, spanning a five-year term, will support an ambitious program of innovative basic and clinical research aimed at understanding the mechanisms of fertility and infertility.

Only 14 such centers are currently funded nationwide. According to NICHD, the agency's purpose in supporting these centers is to "stimulate the reproductive sciences research community to organize and maintain research-based centers of outstanding quality."

The centers, "serving as national research resources, form a cooperative network with NICHD that fosters communication, innovation and high-quality reproductive research." NICHD requires that the studies it supports have clinical relevance.

"Surveys show that about 2.3 million couples in the United States are infertile. Moreover, about 4.9 million women in the country have an impaired ability to have children. The human and economic toll is substantial," said Asgi Fazleabas, director of the new center and professor of physiology in the UIC department of obstetrics and gynecology.

"In light of such problems, we have a strong commitment to seeing that research in the laboratory finds applications in the clinical setting," he added.

The four principal investigators funded under the NICHD grant are, in addition to Fazleabas, Serdar Bulun, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UIC; Geula Gibori, professor of physiology and biophysics at UIC; and Romana Nowak, associate professor of animal science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Bulun is studying a compound that inhibits the production of aromatase, an enzyme involved in manufacturing estrogen. In a clinical trial, Bulun is testing whether the aromatase inhibitor can eliminate or at least delay the recurrence of endometriosis, an enigmatic disease in which the endometrial tissue that lines the uterus lodges elsewhere in the pelvic cavity.

The disease, which affects an estimated 5 million American women, causes internal bleeding, inflammation and scar tissue. Symptoms include chronic pelvic pain and infertility.

Bulun is also investigating the mechanisms by which endometrial tissue becomes resistant to progesterone, a factor in maintaining the highestrogen level within endometrial tissue that is necessary for its survival and growth.

Fazleabas is investigating the role of hormones and regulatory genes in endometriosis. He is testing, in animals, a two-stage model whereby ovarian hormones initially allow the disease to develop and, subsequently, hormones produced in the endometrial tissue itself can take over to perpetuate the disease.

"Understanding the fundamental processes by which endometriosis becomes established and develops will help us find and test treatment possibilites," Fazleabas said.

Gibori focuses her research on locally produced hormones and certain small molecules of the immune system involved in developing and maintaining the decidua, a specialized uterine tissue that forms during pregnancy in primates and rodents. The tissue ensures that the uterus remains "immunoprivileged" -- free from the body's normal immunological reaction to reject foreign tissue, in this case, the fetus.

Nowak is studying the role of a special class of enzymes called metalloproteinases. These enzymes are critical for the developing embryo to implant in the uterine wall during normal pregnancy. They also play a central role in pathologies, allowing cancer cells to invade healthy tissue and permitting sloughed-off endometrial tissue to invade the peritoneum as endometriosis develops.

In addition to UIC, the other research centers in reproductive science currently funded by NICHD are Baylor College of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Oregon Regional Primate Center, Stanford University, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Kansas, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Virginia, the University of Washington and Vanderbilt University.

E-mail to Sel Erder Yackley: seliko@earthlink.net

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. 8th issue. Winter 2002, New York.
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