Jingjing Kipp is unlocking the molecular mysteries of reproductive disease
One afternoon this past winter, an undergraduate student and a graduate student in DePaul’s Kipp Laboratory, Lena DiBenedetto and Zlata Bogin, prepped mouse blood samples for hormone measurements and prepared mouse ovary tissues with an ethanol wash for morphological studies.
They wore personal protective equipment and followed the lab’s social distancing protocols while Jingjing Kipp, associate professor of reproductive biology and the lab’s director, supervised their careful work. The goal: to better understand ovarian hormone signaling and gene regulation in hopes of finding the root causes of reproductive diseases and infertility.
Kipp set up the lab when she came to DePaul in 2009 after earning her PhD in physiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for work focused on the nongenomic effects of estrogen and working as a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University studying the molecular mechanisms of ovary development.
At DePaul, Kipp identified a gene that is most significantly inhibited by the peptide hormone activin in ovarian cells, and discovered the expression and function of this gene in the mouse ovary. Th is gene encodes a protein that regulates degradation of retinoic acid, an active derivative of vitamin A. Researchers have known activin is important in ovary development, but Kipp is the first to study the influential role played by this novel pathway.
“We have provided evidence showing retinoic acid regulates ovarian follicle development and interacts with activin and calcium signaling. Aberrant levels of retinoic acid may play a role in the etiology of premature ovarian failure, ovarian cancer and infertility,” says Kipp. “Retinoic acid can inhibit or increase cancer or normal cell growth, depending on the cell type.”
Kipp and collaborating faculty at Northwestern, Rosalind Franklin University and the University of Illinois at Chicago have studied mice that have had genes related to or involved in Kipp’s discovered pathway modified to see if they remain fertile, develop ovaries normally or acquire reproductive diseases. Kipp also has observed increased ovarian pathologies in mice fed a vitamin A-deficient diet. Mice are a good model because they share with humans a similar internal-organ physiology and hormone production. All animals used in the studies are treated in accordance with local and national guidelines on the ethical care and use of laboratory animals.
Undergraduate and graduate students have learned cutting-edge molecular endocrinology and reproductive biology techniques while assisting with the research. “We have tools for molecular studies,” says Kipp. These tools include a luminescence/fluorescence microplate reader that helps measure gene activities, a transfection machine that delivers exogenous genes into target cells, a sequencer that reads DNA sequences, a real-time polymerase chain reaction machine that quantifies gene-expression levels, and other complex equipment tailored to the tasks.
“What we’ve been doing has been very much on the front line,” she explains.
Kipp, committee chair for the College of Science and Health’s William J. Degutis Women in Science and Health Lecture Series, which organizes talks by nationally and internationally recognized female scientists and entrepreneurs, also connects students to professionals in these fields. “We want students to see these successful career paths and be inspired to do more, instead of just taking courses and graduating,” says Kipp.