OB/GYN Post-Doctoral Student Receives Top Honor

Dr. Linah Al-Alem is a postdoctoral scholar in the Curry lab. Originally from Jordan, she has a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Jordan and a Master’s degree in Clinical Reproduction from the University of Kentucky. She earned her Ph.D. in Molecular and Biomedical Pharmacology at the University of Kentucky exploring biomarkers for ovarian cancer.

 The focus of the Curry lab is to understand the process of ovulation in order to discover novel targets for contraception and gain a better understanding of infertility. Dr. Al-Alem’s project explores the role of the immune system in follicular rupture and oocyte release. The importance of leukocytes in ovulation is highlighted by studies that demonstrate if leukocytes are depleted from the blood, ovulation rates decrease, and if they are added to perfused ovaries, ovulation rates increase. Moreover, the addition of leukocytes to granulosa cells causes them to increase progesterone production. Hence, the question becomes “What makes these leukocytes infiltrate the ovary from the peripheral blood right before ovulation?”

 The focus of this award winning project was to determine the signal that the ovary sends to attract leukocytes into the ovary. To this end, we have identified a chemokine (CCL20) in the human ovary using timed human in vivo ovarian samples collected across the periovulatiry period as well as cells acquired from patients undergoing IVF. CCL20 mRNA and protein are both highly induced in the human granulosa cells after the LH surge. This increase is mediated by LH via the EGFR pathway and functions to attract leukocytes with a specific receptor (CCR6) into the ovary at the time of ovulation.