2023 Rising Stars in Reproductive Biology Webinar Series


2023 Rising Stars in Reproductive Biology Webinar Series

The Rising Stars in Reproductive Biology series is designed to introduce and highlight research from new investigators to the SSR membership and broader reproductive biology research community.

Each presentation will feature a 1-2 min introduction by an invited moderator, a 20 min talk by each Rising Star speaker, and 5-7 min for questions and answers.

Rising Stars- April 12, 2023
12pm-1pm ET

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TAp63 determines the fate of oocytes against DNA damage

Speaker: So-Youn Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Cancer survivors look forward to long-term survival and high quality of life after treatment. Although advanced cancer therapies have remarkably improved the life expectancy of cancer survivors, the treatment itself increases the risk of reproductive insufficiency. Because women are born with a finite number of oocytes that cannot be regenerated during a woman’s reproductive life, an exhausting follicular pool accelerates the onset of menopause irrespective of age, resulting in endocrine dysfunction and infertility. This becomes a critical status in prepubertal girls and premenopausal women. Therefore, it is necessary to elucidate a precise mechanism of ovarian follicle death in the ovary following the administration of chemotherapy. In my talk, I would like to present our recent progress about the role of TAp63 as a target molecule of adjuvant therapies to protect the ovarian reserve from different classes of chemotherapy.

So-Youn Kim, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, NE. Dr. Kim received Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from Yonsei University in Korea, then was trained as a reproductive endocrinologist during her postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University under Dr. J. Larry Jameson and Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff’s guidance. Dr. Kim had received numerous awards including the Constance Campbell Memorial Award, the Young Investigator Award from Women in Endocrinology, the New Investigator award at UNMC, etc. Dr. Kim joined the faculty at UNMC in Oct 2018, where her research program on Oncofertility has been funded by NICHD. She has continued to focus on the signaling pathways related to p63 and ABL kinase to protect oocytes against radiotherapy, chemotherapies and immunotherapies which affect endocrine systems and fertility in young cancer patients. She had served the ENDO society as a committee member of Laureate Award Committee and currently serves as a committee member of Membership Committee for the Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR). She is now President-elect at Midlands Society Physiological Science (MSPS).

How testis biology shapes gene regulatory evolution

Speaker: Bluma Lesch, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics, Yale School of Medicine

Germ cells play a unique role in evolution: they are the only cells that contribute their genetic material to subsequent generations, and their normal function is necessary for fertility and fitness. Therefore, selective forces in germ cells can have a disproportionate effect on how gene expression and function changes during evolution. At the same time, germ cell biology enforces unusual genome regulatory requirements, as chromosomes undergo drastic rearrangements at meiosis and, in males, during sperm head packaging. I will discuss how integrating information at the chromatin, transcriptomic, and proteomic levels has helped us understand how changes in germ cell specific regulatory mechanisms in spermatogenesis impact evolution of gene expression in mammals.

Bluma Lesch, MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Genetics and of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at Yale University. During her PhD studies at Rockefeller University, she identified new factors contributing to transcriptional control of cell fate maintenance. As a postdoc at the Whitehead Institute, she defined the evolutionary dynamics of the bivalent chromatin state in mammalian male germ cells. Her lab now focuses on understanding the unique regulatory biology of mammalian spermatogenesis and applying it to learn about the interactions between fertility, epigenetic regulation, development, and evolution. She is the recipient of several awards including the Searle Scholar award in 2019 and Pew Biomedical Scholar award in 2021.

Rising Stars- March 8, 2023
5-6 pm ET


From devices to diagnosis: Revolutionizing reproductive science using light
Kylie Dunning, PhD

Induction of functional germ cells from rat pluripotent stem cells
Speaker: Toshihiro Kobayashi, PhD 

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Dr. Kylie Dunning

Read Dr. Dunning's Bio

Dr Kylie Dunning heads the Reproductive Success Group within the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, Australia. She has made seminal and internationally renowned contributions to reproductive biology that have advanced fundamental knowledge in oocyte maturation and preimplantation embryo development. Her transdisciplinary research uses microfabrication, biophotonics and imaging to better understand the mechanisms underpinning healthy oocyte and embryo development. Dr Dunning’s transdisciplinary expertise is best illustrated by her multi-faceted studies of embryo development and metabolism, in which she has uniquely capitalized on the use of advanced optical analyses to develop a non-invasive technology to diagnose both the presence and location of aneuploid cells within the developing embryo. In recognition of research excellence, she has received numerous prestigious awards including the Newcastle Emerging Leader Award 2019 (Society for Reproductive Biology, AU/NZ), the 2020 South Australian Tall Poppy of the Year and a 2022 Rising Star Award (Society for the Study of Reproduction, USA).

Read more about Dr. Dunning's Presentation

Title: From devices to diagnosis: Revolutionizing reproductive science using light

One of the greatest challenges for IVF clinics is identifying which embryos are suitable for transfer back into the patient’s uterus. The current gold-standard involves taking a small number of cells from the embryo, then sequencing the DNA to confirm that the embryo has the predicted number of chromosomes. As well as being invasive, this procedure can be inaccurate. In her talk, Kylie will present new research from her group that overcomes the need for a biopsy and instead involves shining gentle doses of light upon an embryo and capturing the scattered light that comes back. This reveals the intricacies of its biochemistry and is able to detect whether an embryo has the expected number of chromosomes. She will also present research on a ground-breaking new micro-device which will streamline the only fertility treatment procedure available for men with low sperm counts, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). This new device, fabricated using 2-photon polymerization, is smaller than a pinhead in size and holds up to 10 oocytes in segregated positions for quicker injection. This makes it easier for embryologists to track injected vs non-injected oocytes, thus avoiding errors. By removing the need for the pipette that normally holds the unfertilized oocyte in position, this device both simplifies and halves the time required to perform ICSI. 

Dr. Toshihiro Kobayashi, The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo (IMSUT). 

Read Dr. Kobayashi's Bio

Toshihiro Kobayashi is a project associate professor at The Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyo (IMSUT). He received Ph.D. from the The University of Tokyo, Japan in 2010 (Supervisor: Prof. Hiromitsu Nakauchi). He did postdoctoral training in Prof. Hiromitsu Nakauchi’s lab at IMUST (2010-2012), and Prof. Azim Surani lab at The Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge (2013-2017). In June 2017, he became an assistant professor at National Institute for Physiological Sciences (NIPS), Japan. Since April 2021, he has led his own lab in the current position at IMSUT. He is also appointed as a concurrent associate professor at NIPS. His research focuses on use of early embryos and pluripotent stem cells from various mammals for understanding germline and organogenesis.

Read more about Dr. Kobayashi's Presentation

Title: Induction of functional germ cells from rat pluripotent stem cells

In mammals, primordial germ cells (PGCs), the precursors of sperm and eggs, emerge from the pre-gastrulating epiblast. Studying PGC specification and development is important for understanding fundamentals of cell fate determination as well as mechanisms underlying disease and infertility. In my talk, I would like to present our recent progress in the induction of germline fate from rat pluripotent stem cells.

Rising Stars- January 11, 2023

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Illuminating the (uterine) path: from embryo movement to implantation
Although much is known about the molecular signaling during implantation, the uterine 3D architecture that facilitates embryo development remains unknown. Imaging the mouse embryo and the uterine milieu simultaneously we uncovered patterns of embryo movement and dynamic shape changes in the uterine lumen and glands in preparation for implantation. When applied to mouse mutants with known implantation defects, this method detected striking peri-implantation abnormalities in uterine morphology that cannot be visualized by histology. Analyzing the uterine and embryo structure in 3D for genetic mutants, hormonal perturbations and pregnancies treated with pathway inhibitors is helping us uncover novel molecular pathways and global structural changes that contribute to successful implantation of an embryo. Our studies have implications for understanding how structure-based embryo-uterine communication is key to determining an optimal implantation site, which is necessary for the success of a pregnancy.

Speaker: Dr. Ripla Arora, Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics, Michigan State University


Ripla Arora is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology and the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering at Michigan State University. Dr. Arora received her PhD degree in Genetics and Development from Columbia University where she studied the role of T-box transcription factors in umbilical vessel and lung development. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco she developed a novel 3D imaging and quantitative modeling method for uterine biology. Her lab research focuses on uncovering novel 3D structure based mechanisms that guide early embryo-uterine interactions for implantation and uterine developmental biology. Dr. Arora has been awarded the March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award, the Jean Schultz Biomedical Research Award from MSU, an NIH R01 grant as principal investigator and six NIH R01 grants as co-investigator.

Sex-differences in immune aging: are we missing half of the picture?
Neutrophils are the most abundant human white blood cell and constitute a first line of defense in the innate immune response. Neutrophils are short-lived cells, and thus the impact of organismal aging on neutrophil biology, especially as a function of biological sex, remains poorly understood. We have generated a multi-omic resource of mouse primary bone marrow neutrophil from young and old female and male mice, at the transcriptomic, metabolomic and lipidomic levels. We identified widespread regulation of neutrophil ‘omics’ landscapes with organismal aging and biological sex. In addition, we leveraged this data to predict functional differences, including changes in neutrophil responses to activation signals. To date, this dataset represents the largest multi-omics resource for neutrophils across sex and ages. This resource identifies neutrophil characteristics which could be targeted to improve immune responses as a function of sex and/or age.

Speaker: Dr. Bérénice Benayoun, Assistant Professor of Gerontology, USC

Bérénice Benayoun, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. Benayoun’s PhD work focused on a transcription factor whose mutations lead to a human syndrome associated to premature menopause. During her post-doctoral training, she identified a chromatin signature of cell identity remodeled with aging, raising questions about the lifelong stability of cellular identity. Her lab’s research focuses on age-related ‘omic’ changes, and how they interact with sex to shape aging. Her lab is also pioneering the naturally short-lived African turquoise killifish Nothobranchius furzeri as a new vertebrate model for aging research.

Rising Stars- February 8, 2023

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Storing Sugar in the Uterus: Glycogen Metabolism during Early Pregnancy

The endometrium needs to regulate glucose availability precisely; too much or too little impairs decidualization and embryo development. We have shown that the epithelium and decidua store distinct pools of glucose as glycogen during early pregnancy. Thus, glycogen may represent a vital way to buffer glucose concentrations before and during implantation.

Speaker: Dr. Matthew Dean, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign



Dr. Dean is a reproductive physiologist interested in the function of the uterus, oviducts, and ovaries. His lab uses novel experimental models and the inherent differences among species to increase our understanding of the reproductive system. His goal is to solve problems important in human medicine and animal agriculture while also providing an environment that prepares trainees for the next step in their careers.

Dr. Dean has won national awards from the Society for the Study of Reproduction and The Endocrine Society for his research. His work has been highlighted at EurekAlert! and Chemical & Engineering News.

Opportunities for Innovation in microTESE Negative Males With Non-Obstructive Azoospermia

This talk will discuss the opportunities for innovation in microTESE negative non-obstructive azoospermic males. We will discuss opportunities for applying image-based machine learning for sperm identification following microTESE. We will also discuss a personalized and precision medicine framework aiming to overcome cellular dysfunction and promote regeneration of spermatogenesis using single cell sequencing, development of novel culture methods, use of human induced pluripotent stem cells and 3D bioprinting.

Speaker: Dr. Ryan Flannigan, Department of Urologic Sciences, University of British Columbia


Dr. Ryan Flannigan is a sub specialized reproductive microsurgeon and has dedicated his career to advancing his microsurgical skillset to optimize success rates for Vasectomy Reversals and microsurgical sperm retrievals.

Dr. Flannigan completed his fellowship training in Male Reproduction, Microsurgery at the world-renowned Weill Cornell Medicine and Memorial Sloan Kettering Center in New York, NY.

Dr. Flannigan now serves as the director of Male Reproduction and Sexual Medicine at the University of British Columbia, Senior surgeon-scientist within the UBC Department of Urologic Sciences, and Fellowship Director for Male Reproduction, Sexual Medicine and Microsurgery Training Program.

Dr. Flannigan is a surgeon scientist and has successfully competed for millions of dollars in research funding where he is investigating novel treatment approaches for infertile men. His research has contributed to nearly 200 publications including papers, book chapters and scientific abstracts.

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