Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 2006
Postdoctoral, University of Pennsylvania, 2006-2009
Postdoctoral, Northwestern University, 2009-2011
Aging is associated with cellular and tissue deterioration and is a prime risk factor for chronic diseases and declining health. The female reproductive system is the first body system to undergo overt signs of physiologic aging, with a decline in egg quantity and quality beginning at ~35 years of age and menopause ensuing at ~50 years of age. Importantly, treatments (i.e. chemotherapy, radiation) for cancers or diseases requiring bone marrow transplantation are often gonadotoxic and result in premature ovarian aging, including infertility or sterility. This kind of accelerated reproductive aging is referred to as iatrogenic, or caused by medical treatment. Reproductive aging - whether physiologic or iatrogenic - has general health consequences. The decline in estrogen production associated with menopause, for example, can affect cardiovascular, bone, metabolic, sexual, and cognitive health. This may have important clinical ramifications as the gap between life expectancy and menopause continues to widen. Reproductive aging also has societal implications, as more women worldwide are delaying childbearing. In the United States, 40% of live births are to women >30 years old. Women of advanced reproductive age have an increased risk of miscarriages and birth defects, more difficulty in conceiving, and a higher reliance on Assisted Reproduction Technologies. Despite the broad relevance of reproductive aging, the precise cellular mechanisms governing this process are not well understood.
Research in the Duncan laboratory aims to test the overarching hypothesis that a deterioration of gamete-intrinsic cellular pathways together with changes in the ovarian environment contribute to the reproductive age-associated decline in egg quantity and quality. Specifically we are using mammalian model systems to investigate whether three mechanisms common to systemic aging underlie physiologic and iatrogenic reproductive aging: 1) genomic instability, 2) altered metabolism, and 3) cellular senescence. These insights will help us design targeted interventions to ameliorate reproductive aging, laying the foundation to simultaneously improve women's fertile-span and health-span across generations.
Francesca E. Duncan, PhD
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
MS 3038, 3071 HLSIC
F: F: 913-588-2710