UAMS Researcher Earns National Recognition, Grant Funding for Reproductive Health Study

By Spencer Watson

Zijing Zhang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow working under Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor and director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, received the Consortium’s Postdoctoral Scholar Award. It recognizes imaginative junior scientists leading the way for the upcoming generation of reproductive aging researchers.

She was one of eight such Postdoctoral Scholar Award recipients and one of 22 researchers nationally to receive a portion of a $7.4 million grant, announced in August.

In addition to Birrer, co-mentor is Lynae Brayboy, M.D., recently named chief medical officer of Berlin-based digital health company Clue and a specialist in reproductive endocrinology and fertility.

“I’m very grateful for the support of my proposed project, which seeks to better understand how immune cells might influence the biological processes in the ovary and the ovarian tissue environment during aging,” said Zhang.

Previous research by Zhang demonstrated differences in a population of immune cells, called macrophages, as ovaries age. Low-grade chronic inflammation in the ovaries has also been associated with aging. Because macrophages play a role in inflammatory reactions, Zhang hopes to explore what role they play in reproductive health as ovaries start to deteriorate and ultimately cease to function during aging.

The mission of the consortium is to support breakthrough research on reproductive aging through funding, training, infrastructure, programs to support women in science, and a collaborative intellectual network. The network will enable grantees and all consortium members to pursue support and collaboration across multidisciplinary approaches and institutions, thereby establishing a foundation on which to grow a diverse and sustainable research ecosystem.

“The consortium unites two disciplines – reproductive science and geroscience – in an unprecedented way to investigate an area of biology that has tangible societal and clinical implications,” said Jennifer Garrison, Ph.D., consortium faculty director and an assistant professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. “Our goal is to foster truly bold, innovative scientists with the potential to transform the field.”