Obstetrics and Gynecology Research

Understanding women’s health and reproduction, improving the care of women
The University of Michigan Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology helps lead the nation in all forms of research in the treatment of diseases that affect women’s health and reproduction.  A history of excellence has kept the University of Michigan as one of the top twelve in NIH rankings among departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology nationwide consecutively for the past ten years.  Our millions of dollars in research funding support a wide variety of programs that break new ground in our basic understanding of women’s health and in the delivery of care to patients nationwide.  We aim to use the most advanced methodologies and to engage multiple disciplines to tackle highly significant disease related problems. Our research is purposefully directed toward areas that will foster the rapid transformation of scientific discoveries into drugs, treatments and methods of prevention. 

Forefront of changing clinical care
Yolanda Smith, M.D., M.S., Professor and Associate Chair for Clinical and Health Services Research, is just one of the many clinical researchers within the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  “Clinical research allows you to be actively involved in making the discoveries that will help determine best practices for clinical care,” expresses Dr. Yolanda Smith.  “It allows you to be on the frontline of figuring out what is best not only for the patients of today, but also those of tomorrow.”  The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is committed to the process of translational research: applying ideas, insights and discoveries generated through basic scientific inquiry to the treatment or prevention of human disease; and the process of taking insights and ideas from clinical experience to generate new testable hypotheses. Whether it's in the laboratory, the clinic, the classroom, or the operating room, our researchers are working to make things better for patients today and tomorrow. 

New study shows effects of hormones on the cholinergic system
Menopause is an important life stage, impacting the cognitive and psychological health of women. Neuroimaging studies indicate that hormone therapy has significant effects on the brains of postmenopausal women. However, mechanistic studies of the underlying neurobiology have been lacking. One new study at the University of Michigan Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology looks at the effects of menopausal hormone therapy on neural systems involved in memory and cognition.  Under the leadership of Dr. Yolanda Smith, this National Institute of Health funded project explores how menopausal hormone therapy affects the cholinergic system. 

The study, recently published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that early initiation of hormone therapy in menopausal women is associated with increased cholinergic activity in the hippocampus and posterior cingulate (areas potentially important for cognition, memory, and aging) after ten years of use.    Those women taking both estrogen and progestin therapy were found to have the highest cholinergic activity.  This study demonstrates the contributions of hormone therapy to preservation of a neural system important in cognitive aging. Additional NIH studies are ongoing to evaluate the normal changes in brain neural circuitry that occur during the menopausal transition.  Results of these studies help achieve a better understanding of the areas and sequence of brain processing changes that occur during the menopausal transition and in response to hormone therapy. The ultimate goal of this research is to identify interventions which most effectively preserve cognitive and emotional health for women.  To volunteer as a patient for this study or any other study within the department visit: https://www.umms.med.umich.edu/umclinicalstudies/disp_pub_results.do?search=condition&id=81

Reference:  "Early Initiation of Hormone Therapy in Menopausal Women is Associated with Increased Hippocampal and Posterior Cingulate Cholinergic Activity." J Clin Endocrinol Metab.  2011 Aug 24. [Epub ahead of print].

Funding:  This work was supported by the National Center for Research Resources (K23 RR17043 and UL1RR024896), and for investigator support, by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (5T32HD007048), National Institute on Aging and the Office for Research on Women’s Health (RO1AG027675), the University of Michigan’s Postdoctoral Translational Scholars Program award and the Phil F. Jenkins Foundation. 

Additional Authors:  Luvina Bowen, M.S., Tiffany M. Love, Ph.D., Alison Berent-Spillson, Ph.D.,  Kirk A. Frey, M.D., Ph.D., Carol C. Persad, Ph.D.,  Nancy K. Reame, Ph.D., Robert A. Koeppe, Ph.D., Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D.