Dr. Jennifer Hill, an assistant professor in the UT Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, is one of eight recipients of a 2013 Early Investigators Award from the Endocrine Society.The award is sponsored by Amgen and Pfizer Inc. and recognizes outstanding individuals early in their careers who research women’s health.
“It’s a really critical period of your career,” Hill said. “You’re establishing yourself, your own laboratory, and working on your independent research direction.”
Hill’s research is focused on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) — a syndrome that affects 10 percent of women. Women with PCOS have an imbalance of hormones that can lead to irregular periods, unwanted hair growth, acne and fertility problems. The syndrome can put women at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other problems.
Since joining UT’s faculty in July 2009, Hill has performed research on how metabolic challenges such as obesity and insulin resistance impact fertility and PCOS development.
“This is a very important issue for women’s health, and there is a limited amount of research that can be done on women themselves,” Hill said. “If you really want to get at the mechanisms behind the disease, you need to go to animals.”
With the use of animals, particularly mice, Hill and her colleagues can do more than blood testing and monitoring — some of the only ways to ethically study the disease in humans.
Hill and her lab assistants work with mouse models to understand the relationship between PCOS and metabolism. Some of these models have a genetic resistance to insulin and others are given high levels of testosterone to induce PCOS symptoms such as ovarian cysts and irregular reproductive cycles.
“Ideally, five years down the road, we’d like to move into translational research,” Hill said. “I want to be able to identify biomarkers in the mouse models that we then test in humans.”
Hill expressed optimism that the award would open doors for future research grants and raise the profile of the lab nationally.
Along with Hill, the lab consists of four members: Joseph Marino, a postdoctoral researcher who recently has accepted a faculty position at the University of North Carolina; Abigail Dowling, who is starting her postdoctoral work in the lab this summer; Xiaoliang Qiu, a graduate student who successfully defended his dissertation in June;
and Latrice Faulkner, who currently is away for an internship with the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
Hill attended the Endocrine Society’s Annual Awards Dinner last month in San Francisco.
“The awards presentation gave me a chance to meet the other Early Investigator Award winners and their mentors,” Hill said. “In addition, we were able to see the Laureate Awards presented to some of the giants of endocrinology that same evening. Their work has made such amazing contributions to knowledge and human health. It was tremendously inspiring.”