Pioneering medical scientist will connect cancer care, reproductive health and fertility at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute lecture

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Facing a cancer diagnosis at any age is devastating enough. However, young cancer patients may have the added concern that the cancer treatments intended save their lives may affect their ability to have children.

Teresa Woodruff, director of Northwestern University’s Women’s Health Research Institute, will share the latest research to help women fight cancer and protect their reproductive health with the community at the next Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 12, at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

An elected member of the National Academy of Medicine as well as the National Academy of Inventors, Woodruff will describe her efforts to help preserve fertility and better manage the reproductive status of cancer patients, who are often severely impacted by treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.

During her presentation, Woodruff will discuss how cancer treatments can affect female reproductive health and reveal the diverse fertility preservation options that are available or being developed for women.

“Perhaps most rewarding is the work our group has done to create fertility options for young cancer patients,” said Woodruff, a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, in a Tedx Talk.

In addition to her appointment as professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, she also is a professor of biomedical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering.. She is an innovator who holds10 U.S. patents.

“Dr. Woodruff contributes substantially on the leading edge of science, medicine, innovation, public health and well-being,” said Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology. “She created the term ‘oncofertility’ to describe and meet an urgent need of young women who survive cancer in increasing numbers, only to discover that they would be unable to have children because of the treatments. The field merges the clinical specialties of oncology and reproductive endocrinology to bring the two disciplines together and make them both be part of the solution. As a result, her contributions have dramatically influenced the course of clinical practice to preserve fertility before beginning cancer treatment.”

Woodruff’s team has made several discoveries that have been directly translated for human health benefit. These include live birth from a 3D-printed ovarian bioprosthetic; the invention of the EVATAR, which simulates a reproductive cycle in a dish; and, along with colleagues, the discovery of the zinc spark from eggs at the time of fertilization.

Earlier this year, Woodruff was featured during a Congressional briefing called “Rock Stars of Research: Scientists Who are Shaping the Future of Women’s Health Care,” where she addressed the historical lack of females in biomedical research and the impact it has had on knowledge of health and disease.

In 2016, she championed the 2016 National Institutes of Health policy to include gender as a biological variable in federally funded research. Before then, most animal and clinical studies focused on males, which did not reveal sex differences in drugs and treatments. The oversight has resulted in the development and introduction into the marketplace of several medicines that can be dangerously mis-dosed for women.

In 2017, she received a Guggenheim Award and was elected to the National Academy of Inventors. She was elected as a Fellow to the National Academy of Medicine in 2018. In addition, Woodruff was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2005 as well as the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 2017.

She has appeared on Time’s list of most influential people and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring at the White House.

The Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Woodruff has served in leadership roles spanning three decades at Northwestern University, including as dean of the Graduate School at Northwestern, and founder and director of the Oncofertility Consortium and the Women’s Health Research Institute.

Her leadership and national stature have been recognized by multiple professional societies, including being selected as past president of the Endocrine Society and the current editor-in-chief of Endocrinology. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Adler Planetarium, as an elected member of the Economic Club of Chicago and The Chicago Network, and as a former Chicago Charter School board member.

Woodruff completed undergraduate and graduate work at Northwestern University, where she cloned and characterized inhibin and activin, the two most powerful gonadal peptide hormones of the reproductive axis.

She illuminated how these master hormones act at the molecular level, eventually solving the structure of activin along with its receptor and regulating proteins — work recognized by the Endocrine Society’s Weitzman Award, given to a scientist of exceptional promise under the age of 40.

The Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s distinguished public lecture, named for Maury Strauss, a Roanoke businessman and longtime community benefactor, begins at 5:30 PM p.m. with a reception at 5 p.m. preceding the presentation at 2 Riverside Circle, Roanoke. The lecture will be webcast live and streamed on Facebook Live.