Research Projects Targeting Women

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

William P. Clarke, PhD
Kelly Berg, PhD
Department of Pharmacology

  • NIH grant funded study to determine why women are more sensitive to pain than men.

This study is focusing on how the pain-sensing neurons are regulated by the hormone estrogen. They have found that estrogen rapidly and dramatically increases the response of the pain-sensing cells to an inflammatory agent (bradykinin). Since this inflammatory agent is released from cells to act upon the pain-sensing neurons when tissue is damaged or inflammed, this action of estrogen would increase the transmission of pain information to the brain and thus may be one of the many possible reasons why women are more sensitive to pain than men.

With these studies they hope to be able to identify the cellular mechanisms by which estrogen increases the pain-sensing neuronal response and this may lead to better methods to treat pain in women.

Charles Patrick France, PhD
Michelle G Baladi, Graduate Student
Department of Pharmacology

In 2009, there were 1.6 million cocaine users aged 12 or older in the US; although the rate of substance abuse tends to be higher in males compared with females, there are periods during adolescence (aged 12-17) where rates of drug abuse are higher in females.  Although many things contribute to an individual’s vulnerability to abuse drugs, factors that appear to be critical for determining sensitivity to drugs are the amount and type of food consumed.

  • As part of a larger set of studies investigating nutritional factors impacting drugs, and especially drugs of abuse, graduate student Michelle Baladi is comparing the impact of eating high fat food on the sensitivity of young and old, male and female rats to cocaine. 

Alan Frazer, PhD
Saloua Benmansour, PhD
Department of Pharmacology

We are conducting basic science research (i.e, using rats) , examining the impact of female sex steroids (estrogen and/or progesterone) on the functioning of the serotonin transporter (SERT).

The SERT is the initial target for the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class of antidepressants, which includes drugs such as Prozac or Lexipro.  They have also found that chronic administration of these hormones not only impacts the functioning of the transporter but also interferers with the action of SSRIs on the transporter.

  • These results have implications for the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) in postmenopausal women. The studies are supported by a grant from NIMH as well as the VA.

David Kadosh, Ph.D.
Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Project Title: Determination of morphology and virulence in Candida albicans

  • Candida albicans is a major cause of vaginal yeast infections in women. Our lab studies mechanisms important for C. albicans pathogenicity and our goal is to obtain information that could eventually lead to the development of new and more effective antifungal treatments.

L.M. Fredrik Leeb-Lundberg, PhD
Department of Pharmacology

Project title: Exploring the estrogen receptor GPER1 as a novel prognostic and therapeutic target in breast cancer.

Project description: We are exploring a recently identified cellular receptor protein named GPER1 through which the female sex hormone estrogen acts using cultured breast cancer cells, in animal models of breast cancer, and in human breast cancer patient biopsies. The aim of the project is to exploit this protein as a novel prognostic and therapeutic target that may be used to further personalize and improve the treatment and chance of survival of breast cancer patients.

Susan L. Mooberry, Ph.D.
Professor of Pharmacology and Medicine

  • Identification of New Drug Leads for Triple Negative Breast Cancer

    Triple negative breast cancers, devoid of estrogen, progesterone and Her2 receptors, represent an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that occurs more frequently in young women and in African American and Hispanic women. It has a worse prognosis than many types of breast cancer because triple negative tumors do not express the cellular targets for the multiple targeted agents used to treat breast cancer.  There is a compelling need for better treatment options for triple negative breast cancer.  We are looking to nature to identify new compounds with activity target triple negative breast cancer cells with the long term goal of identify new therapies for this type of breast cancer .