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W.M. Keck Foundation grant funds reproductive science research
Date:7/29/2008

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has received a three-year, $1.6 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation to support reproductive science research focused on understanding the chemical and biological signaling events surrounding fertilization and early embryonic development.

The egg and sperm unite at the time of fertilization and create a new cell called the zygote. This single cell then divides many times, ultimately forming a new individual. How do the egg and sperm mature, and what is the underlying mechanism that controls cellular division and differentiation?

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at Northwestern believes that inorganic molecules -- zinc, calcium, iron and others -- may lie at the heart of this matter. The team's goal is to determine what critical roles these molecules, particularly zinc, play in signal processing. Based on preliminary studies, the team hypothesizes that fluxes in zinc ions mediate the first definitive signal in embryonic development.

Cells communicate by sending signals through networks of small molecules, but little is known about these networks in fertilization and early embryonic development. A better understanding of the role of inorganic molecules in signaling could help with fertility issues as well as shed light on the role of metal metabolism dysfunction in many diseases, including diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

The project is being led by Thomas O'Halloran, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor in Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and Teresa K. Woodruff, Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. O'Halloran is an expert in how cells use essential metal nutrients such as zinc, copper and iron at the molecular level, and Woodruff's specialty is in ovarian biology and reproductive science.

"This research is focused on an unexplored area of egg and sperm biology,
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Contact: Megan Fellman
fellman@northwestern.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
Source:Eurekalert

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