FIB Research Programs

The following information describes the branch's research programs and program areas.

Program Official: Susan Taymans

This program supports basic, clinical, and translational research designed to preserve reproductive capacity in individuals who are or might become infertile secondary to chronic disease (e.g., cancer, systemic lupus erythematosus, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis) or disease treatment (e.g., radiation, chemotherapy, drug regimens, transfusions, or surgery), exposure to environmental toxins, advanced reproductive age, gender-affirming medical treatment, or genetic predisposition.

The fertility preservation program encourages applications in the following priority areas:

  • Epidemiologic studies to determine the incidence and prevalence of infertility in children and in reproductive-age women or men who have been exposed to necessary, but gonadotoxic, chemo- or radiation therapy
  • Development of biomarkers and clinical parameters to predict gonadal reserve with better accuracy
  • Elucidation of the mechanism(s) through which chemo- and radiation therapy or other disease treatments negatively affect fertility status
  • Development or optimization of interventions to prevent or minimize harmful effects on fertility and studies of their mechanisms of action
  • New or improved technologies to optimize or expand options for fertility preservation, especially for pre-pubertal children and transgender individuals

Program Official: Travis Kent

This program supports research on the physiology and pathophysiology of male reproduction. Major areas of scientific interest include:

  • Spermatogenesis, including the acquisition of sperm structure and functional characteristics associated with normal fertility, and the result of perturbations in the process because of factors such as advanced age or exposure to environmental toxins
  • Identification and differentiation of spermatogenic stem cells
  • Role of the epididymis and other components of the reproductive tract in sperm maturation and function
  • Paracrine and endocrine mechanisms associated with the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, testes, and reproductive tract needed for successful male reproduction
  • Genetics of male reproduction, including the identification of genes critical for fertility
  • Epigenetics of male reproduction, including transgenerational inheritance and the identification of environmental factors that may affect the epigenome and be important for normal spermatogenesis, sperm function, and the health of the next generation
  • Contribution of seminal content to fertility, infertility, and/or offspring fitness; the use of semen as a diagnostic
  • Paternal age and its effect on sperm function and the health of the next generation
  • Molecular mechanisms of fertilization, centering on sperm-egg interactions
  • Relationship between male infertility and overall health
  • Translational and clinical aspects of male reproductive biology
  • Training of investigators in the field of male reproductive health

Program Official: Susan Taymans

This program supports research on the function of the ovary, including the mechanisms that regulate follicle endowment, follicular development, ovulation, luteal function, and ovarian pathologies that affect fertility.

Major areas of interest include:

  • Interplay between the oocyte and somatic cells of the ovary
  • Identification of mechanisms responsible for follicle survival versus apoptosis, and selection of a dominant follicle
  • Regulation of oocyte meiosis and the reason for the greater risk of aneuploidy with increasing age
  • Processes involved in normal female reproductive aging due to ovarian factors
  • Mechanisms contributing to conditions such as diminished ovarian reserve and primary ovarian insufficiency/premature ovarian failure

Program Official: Ravi Ravindranath

This program supports research related to the quality and developmental competence of oocytes and preimplantation embryos. Major areas of scientific interests include:

  • Genetic and epigenetic regulation of oocyte quality
  • Environmental factors affecting the quality of oocytes
  • Oocyte activation
  • Maternal mRNAs and their translational regulation in oocytes
  • Oocyte mitochondrial function
  • Maternal to zygotic transition
  • Stem cells: Totipotency and pluripotency
  • Reprogramming
  • Genetics and epigenetics of preimplantation embryo
  • New or improved technologies for determination of quality of oocytes and preimplantation embryos

Program Official: Susan Taymans

This program supports research on embryonic development of the gonads, from the events that establish the genital ridges to male and female differentiation and later development of the gonads, reproductive ducts, and genitals. The program also supports research on embryonic development of the germ cells, from specification of the separate germ cell lineage through migration to the genital ridges and the fundamental processes of gametogenesis, with an emphasis on meiosis.

Major areas of interest include:

  • Identification of genetic networks and their mechanisms of action that influence these processes, including the genetic contributions to disorders/differences of sex development
  • Epigenetic processes, including the timing, mechanisms, and role of chromatin and histone modifications in gonadal development and gametogenesis
  • Effects of assisted reproductive techniques on the epigenome of gametes
  • Reproductive determinants and consequences of X-chromosome inactivation

Program Official: David Weinberg

This program supports research on the etiology and pathophysiology of diseases and disorders that cause human infertility and impaired fecundity. Major areas of interest include:

  • Clinical research that explores the influence of underlying diseases, nutrition, and environment on fertility
  • Adolescent reproductive transition
  • New and effective methods for diagnosis, management, and prevention of infertility
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, idiopathic hypothalamic hypogonadism, and other causes of infertility
  • Long-term health and developmental outcomes of children born as a result of medically assisted reproduction
  • Causal links between reproductive technologies and overall health and quality of life of the offspring

Program Official: Ravi Ravindranath

This program supports research that addresses cellular, molecular, genetic, and epigenetic mechanisms underpinning the neuroendocrine control of reproduction, including sexual behavior and function across the lifespan.

Major research priorities include:

  • Cellular and molecular events regulating the pulsatile secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) 
  • Development of technologies that allow real-time in vivo monitoring of neuronal circuits
  • Neurobiological function of glial cells in regulating GnRH
  • Mechanisms involved in differential secretion of gonadotropins and the interactions between the neuroendocrine and immune axes
  • Integration of systems approaches to gene regulation of gametogenesis and ovulation
  • Systems approaches that regulate the interplay between metabolic signals and the neuroendocrine system in the control of reproductive function

Program Official: Clara Cheng

This program supports basic research studies on uterine function involving molecular-, cellular-, tissue-, and organ-level approaches.

Major areas of research include:

  • Mechanism of action of steroid, lipid, and protein hormones on the uterus, oviduct, and vagina
  • Reproductive cycle-regulated changes in the morphology and function of the female reproductive tract organs
  • Interactions between the implanting blastocyst and the uterus in the establishment of pregnancy
  • Uterine receptivity, decidualization, neovascularization, and tissue remodeling
  • Mesometrial triangle function in relation to immune aggregates and uterine receptivity
  • Trophoblast differentiation and formation of the placenta
  • Interplay of the immune and endocrine system families of hormones, growth factors, cytokines, and their receptors in the processes of blastocyst implantation
  • Implantation-based infertility, subfecundity, and poor pregnancy outcome, including early pregnancy loss and frequent pregnancy failure

NICHD is also part of the Interdisciplinary Collaborative Team on Blastocyst Implantation Research, a collaborative team composed of NIH-funded investigators working on various aspects of implantation in a variety of animal models, cell lines, and human samples. Including immune cells in the uterine components for interaction with invading trophoblasts is among the leading research topics. Drs. Clara Cheng (NICHD) and Mercy Prabhudas (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) serve as research coordinators for the team. Interested grantees who comply with team guidelines may join. Contact Clara Cheng for more information.

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