Infertility breakthrough earns award for young scientist
A University of Adelaide researcher who discovered scientific evidence that high-fat diets can cause infertility in obese women has become South Australia's 2007 Young Investigator of the Year.
Cadence Minge has won $12,500 in prizes at the finals of the Young Investigator Award, held recently at the Adelaide Convention Centre.
The award promotes excellence in science and communication among young researchers. Ms Minge, a PhD student in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the University of Adelaide, was named the Young Investigator of the Year by a panel of media judges.
As the winner, Ms Minge received the Hon. Carolyn Pickles award of $10,000, plus a cheque for $2500. Awards to all three finalists were presented by South Australia's Science Minister, the Hon. Paul Caica.
Ms Minge's research - which was featured in the September 2007 issue of the Adelaidean - is the first time the effects of obesity on female eggs have been discovered, using mice eggs as a substitute for human eggs.
"Consuming a diet high in fat causes damage to eggs stored in female ovaries. As a result, when fertilised, these eggs are not able to undergo normal, healthy development into embryos," Ms Minge said.
Ms Minge has also discovered a way to completely reverse the effects of obesity on mouse eggs, enabling afflicted eggs to develop into healthy embryos.
She found that a particular protein in the cells surrounding, supporting and nourishing the egg is critical for egg health. When the protein is selectively targeted with an anti-diabetes drug, rosiglitazone, the adverse effects of obesity on egg quality are completely reversed.
However, Ms Minge warns that rosiglitazone could not be considered a "quick fix" for infertile women.
"At this stage, the research findings have only been made in mice. Also, the drug itself can have possible harmful side-effects, and more research is needed to find other, safer ways of activating the protein," she said.
Ms Minge said her findings emphasised the importance of a healthy lifestyle for women interested in conceiving children naturally.
"Despite the wide-ranging, recognised health risks associated with excessive body weight, Australia's waistline continues to expand. Currently, Australia is on par with heavyweight nations such as the US and the UK, with approximately 60% of Australian adults now overweight or obese," Ms Minge said.
"I hope that these findings encourage people to carefully consider the impact of lifestyle choices on longer-term quality of life."
The Young Investigator Award, now in its eighth year, is a highly successful event rewarding excellence in South Australia's young researchers in both science and their ability to communicate and 'sell' that science to a general audience and the media.
The award is an initiative of the Children, Youth and Women's Health Service and the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide. This year, the University of South Australia and Flinders University were also major partners in the Award for the first time.
Story by David Ellis