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25 March 2016

Last night in Paris, Australian scientist Dr Elena Tucker, was honoured at the 2016 L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science ceremony, along with 14 other promising young researchers and five leading female scientists.

International Rising Talents - 15 promising researchers offering new solutions and answering vital questions

For many years, the L’Oréal UNESCO For Women in Science programme has recognised the importance of highlighting the achievements of younger women who are in the early stages of their scientific careers. To support this work, the International Rising Talent awards were established in 2014. The recipients of these awards have the power to change to world and this recognition will help ensure they reach their full potential.

Dr Elena Tucker, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Molecular Development Laboratory, University of Melbourne

Understanding the genetic basis of early menopause

Infertility is a global problem affecting some 50 million couples worldwide and causing significant financial, social, emotional and physical burdens. One form of female infertility is Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) which affects up to 1 in 100 women under the age of 40, and 1 in 1,000 women under the age of 30.

 A specialist in the genetic basis of disease, Dr Elena Tucker is researching POI, usually known as premature menopause, which is characterised by loss of menstruation associated with a  hormone profile like that of menopause. Although more than 50 genes may be implicated in the condition, the exact cause of premature menopause in most patients remains unknown.

According to Dr Tucker one goal is that genetic causes for POI can be identified “so that we can identify women before they enter this “premature menopause” and preserve their eggs for later IVF,” she said.

Finding a series of genes responsible for POI would also “provide insights into ovarian function – what happens when the development of the ovary is faulty or the activation or survival of eggs is faulty. Knowing what causes these faults means that we can then learn how to correct them,” she said.

“What I love about this research study is that not only are we looking for the cause of a problem, but finding that cause could also translate into real life solutions for this problem. I want to make sure that the research I do has real outcomes, and helps people that are struggling with genetic diseases, such as POI” says Dr Tucker.

Dr Tucker plans to use high-throughput gene sequencing technology to study individuals who have experienced menopause in childhood or adolescence, the severest type of POI. One of her goals is to help identify the genes that are required for normal ovarian functioning in general and to offer new insights into reproductive biology. The other is to enhance understanding of the genetic basis of POI in order to enable personalised infertility treatments and counselling, and to recognise pre-symptomatic individuals who could benefit from early intervention.

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