Research/Labs

Dr. Ann Word laboratory
Ann Word's lab research focuses on three specific areas: cervical ripening, pelvic floor and vaginal wall, and the role of aging and mesenchymal stem cells in recovery of the pelvic floor from injury.

The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology has a long history of conducting basic research. Today, faculty in the Division of Basic Reproductive Biology Research are studying diverse aspects of female reproductive biology with a focus on molecular mechanisms.

Bruce Carr, M.D., and Victor Beshay, M.D. are studying the role of CYP17 (17-hydroxylase) in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that can affect a woman’s ability to become pregnant. They have identified a transcription factor, c-FOS, which appears to control and inhibit CYP17 production in the ovary. The ultimate goal of this research is to develop new clinical protocols to treat women suffering from PCOS.

Lisa Halvorson, M.D. is investigating the neuroendocrine control of reproduction and the molecular mechanisms that lead to the onset of fertility.

In the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences, Lee Kraus, Ph.D.'s research focuses on signaling and gene regulation in a cell’s nucleus by small molecules, including the steroid hormone, estrogen. His investigations are aimed at understanding how these fundamental processes might occur differently in cells of the reproductive tract than in cells of other systems in the body, and how these processes go awry in disease states like cancer.

Mala Mahendroo, Ph.D.’s research focuses on understanding the molecular events throughout pregnancy that bring about remodeling of the cervix from a closed, rigid structure to one that expands sufficiently to allow passage of a term fetus.

In Clifford Wai, M.D.'s Laboratory, the focus is on female pelvic floor disorders and understanding the functional anatomy of the lower urinary tract and sphincter.

Working in collaboration with Ann Word, M.D., they are exploring the role of mechanical trauma, denervation, pregnancy, and the effects of growth factors and myogenic stem cells on wound healing of the external anal sphincter. Dr. Word also uses molecular and cellular techniques to identify how the female reproductive tract changes during pregnancy, child birth, and afterward.

Several obstetrics and gynecology faculty members have their laboratories in the Green Center. Xiaoying Bai, M.D., Ph.D., is using zebra fish as a genetic and developmental model in combination with mammalian systems to study transcriptional mechanisms that regulate the differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells. Xin Liu, Ph.D., is addressing the molecular mechanisms of start site selection for RNA polymerase II, and exploring the RNA polymerase II transcription in the context of the three-dimensional structure of the genome. Yunsun Nam, Ph.D., is studying mechanisms of non-coding RNAs and their role in gene regulation important for development and cancer.

Program Project Grant

In addition to individual investigator-initiated research grants (R01s, R21s) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private research foundations, faculty in the Division of Basic Reproductive Biology Research also have a program-project grant (P01) from the NIH.

This research program, titled "Initiation of Human Labor: Prevention of Prematurity," has been continuously funded by NIH since 1974. Although initially funded as a program project grant, in 1977 the funding mechanism was changed to that of a Major Research Program. In 1983, the funding mechanism was again modified with implementation of the Perinatal Emphasis Research Center program. In 1997, the competing renewal again took the form of a Program Project Proposal.

Over the course of its life, the program project grant has included many different faculty with primary or secondary appointments in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

The current program director is Carole Mendelson, Ph.D., who has a secondary appointment in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In addition to Dr. Mendelson, participating faculty include Drs. W. Lee Kraus, Mala Mahendroo, and R. Ann Word.

The grant provides support for the Department’s core tissue laboratory for both the acquisition and processing of human tissue to meet the experimental needs of various projects.

Under the direction of Dr. Ann Word, the Human Tissue Acquisition and Uterine Monitoring Laboratory contains phenotypically well-characterized tissues from pregnant and non-pregnant women cared for on our services. These tissues are not only critically important for research being conducted in the Department but also help support research elsewhere on campus.

In partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, the core laboratory is also working on the development of intrauterine pressure sensors, data acquisition, and data analysis.