Biology professors get research funding

A $100,000 grant will give funding for obesity research to three biology professors

Caitlin Kaloostian

Three biology professors at Washington and Lee received a $100,000 grant to investigate the link between obesity and infertility in women.

Assistant professors of biology Sarah Blythe, Natalia Toporikova and Gregg Whitworth will use the grant to research the relationship between the female reproductive system and obesity.

The professors will choose three undergraduate students to assist them in their summer research program.

“Over the past 20 years, obesity has become a major global health crisis, as it is associated with a number of medical problems including reduced fertility,” said Toporikova.

This grant money comes from the Jeffress Trust Awards Program, which supports scientists and research of the highest quality across the state of Virginia. The program provides this funding to support one-year pilot studies that encourage the development of innovative strategies across a broad range of scientific disciplines.

“Our goal is to improve reproductive outcomes in overweight and obese women,” said Professor Blythe. “The experiment will consist of a three-step process: first, juvenile female rats with and without estrogen will be fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet for 12 weeks, then evaluated for any changes. We will be collecting relevant tissue samples and using use a computer model in order to predict potential therapeutic strategies.”

Professors Blythe, Toporikova and Whitworth will each contribute their own unique strengths to this group effort. Professor Blythe, a neuroscientist by training, has been researching obesity since she came to W&L in 2010.

“Normally I study how high-fat/unhealthy diets affect learning and memory function in rats.  So I suppose my contribution to the project is implementing the obesity model and carrying out hormonal/physiological assays,” Blythe said.

All three professors stated that they are excited to be working together as a group.

“We are all good friends, so writing the grant was actually a pretty fun process,” Blythe said. “It’s nice to be able to collaborate on a project with colleagues here at W&L.”