Coleen Murphy: A diagnostic test for the biological clock

Thursday, Nov 12, 2015

Invention A diagnostic test for the female biological clock  

Inventor Coleen Murphy, Professor of Molecular  Biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics  

What it does The invention tests a woman’s reproductive ability by diagnosing the status of her egg cells, or oocytes. The quality of a woman’s oocytes generally declines in her mid-to-late 30s, the basis of the so-called biological clock. Yet a subset of women will experience oocyte decline earlier or later than average, and a test that can reveal oocyte quality could give women much-needed information about their reproductive status.  

Current tests of oocyte quality examine either the cell’s chromosomes, a process that destroys the oocyte, or its form and structure, which yields imprecise information. Although ultrasound and endocrine tests can report the number of remaining oocytes, these tests do not reveal their quality and have a very limited prognostic window. A test of biomarkers of oocyte quality will not only be a useful indicator for individual women and their families, but also could improve the success rates of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg-freezing procedures.  

The diagnostic test looks for genetic markers of oocyte decline.  To construct the test, genetic material will be collected from human oocytes and other cells, sequenced, and then evaluated by age and other factors to develop an oocyte-aging profile. Next, researchers will identify the genes that are most indicative of oocyte age and fertility as biomarkers to be included in a test that compares a patient’s gene expression pattern to the profile to determine the oocyte’s fertility status.  

Researchers in the Murphy lab also are looking at correlating oocyte health with gene expression in other tissues such as blood and urine that could be accessed more easily than oocytes. The researchers hope to develop a set of diagnostic tests, including a direct test of oocytes that could be done during IVF procedures, a test of cells collected during a clinic visit, and a diagnostic test that can be used at home.  

Collaborators Daniel Notterman, molecular biologist.  

Development status Patent protection is pending.  

Funding sources National Institutes of Health and the March of Dimes Foundation.