Students creating solutions: fertility research

June 13, 2018

Biology majors Abi Haas and Lauren Gould have spent their summer in the Thomas Family Health & Science Center labs making advancements in research about fertility and sustainability of pregnancy in the first trimester.

“We’re working on research where we have to solve real problems, and it will set the foundation for future research that can help a lot of people.”
“A lot of couples struggle with fertility issues within the first trimester of a pregnancy,” Lauren explained. “It’s estimated that 25-40 percent of pregnancies fail at the time the embryo implants, or immediately after, hinting that the uterus is failing to be receptive to the embryo” This struggle led these students to explore the possible causes and pursue a solution.

Within the first trimester of pregnancy, the embryo receives most of its nutrients from a substance within the uterus called histotroph. “You can think of histotroph as a nutrient soup that the uterus excretes. It has pyruvate, lactate, glucose, lipids, and proteins—everything a growing baby needs,” remarked Lauren.

Because the uterine lining provides an embryo nutrients at the very beginning of pregnancy and little is known about its histotroph, Abi and Lauren studied how uterine cells contribute. Their focus is on the glucose metabolism of uterine endometrial cells. Abi said, “Our goal is to create a model of glycolysis in order to identify risk factors and therapeutic targets for infertility.”

So Abi and Lauren grew both GMMe cells (mink uterine cells) and Ishikawa cells (human uterine cells) and observed how they process glucose, glycogen and lactate. Through their experiments, they measured the lactate and glycogen levels at various times to determine two things: the rate molecules pass through glycolysis and what is the fate of glucose that enters the cells (storage or consumption).

“My favorite part of research is that we have had a lot of obstacles,” commented Abi. “We’ve had to overcome a lot of problems. It is real and important work that we’re doing. It’s not a dummy problem that a professor setup that has an easy answer.”

With the summer coming to an end, Abi and Lauren are on the right track for gaining the information needed to understand the uterine epithelium and its glucose metabolism. When asked how the experience will help in their future, Lauren replied, “Being exposed to the actual process of science. We’re working on research where we have to solve real problems, and it will set the foundation for future research that can help a lot of people.”

Abi added, “And in a tangible way, learning a lot of techniques. I am interested in cell culture for future research, and I’m very confident I can do it. We have mastered many of the techniques we would need.”

Abi and Lauren presented their research at the Idaho INBRE (IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) Conference in Moscow, Idaho, and they will continue their research on GMMe and Ishikawa cells this school year.