NIEHS postdoctoral researcher Matthew Quinn, Ph.D., won an Endocrine Society Early Investigator Award for his work on women’s health issues, particularly menopause. The Endocrine Society will feature Quinn’s talk on menopause and glucocorticoids at the society’s annual meeting in April, in Orlando, Florida.
The honor is only the latest in a series of awards for the Intramural Research Training Award fellow, who is part of the NIEHS Molecular Endocrinology Group. He is mentored by group leader John Cidlowski, Ph.D., who also serves as head of the Signal Transduction Laboratory. Quinn studies glucocorticoid action in the liver, and particularly, its interaction with reproductive hormones.
"Classically, clinicians used hormone replacement therapy [HRT] for the treatment of postmenopausal symptoms, such as metabolic syndrome," Quinn explained. "The therapy targeted the estrogen receptor pathway. However, HRT notoriously increases the risk for certain cancers."
"Our research hypothesis was that if we disrupted the stress hormone pathway by blocking the glucocorticoid receptor, we might lessen some menopausal complications and also avoid some hormone replacement therapy cancer risks for women," said Quinn. Glucocorticoids are stress hormones.
Stress pathway research garners multiple awards
The glucocorticoid and stress pathway research earned Quinn first place for his poster presentation, "Loss of Ovarian Function Results in Metabolic Syndrome and Steatosis via a Glucocorticoid Receptor Dependent Mechanism," at the 2016 NIEHS Science Days.
In both 2014 and 2016, Quinn received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fellows Award for Research Excellence. These awards recognize outstanding scientific research performed by NIH postdocs.
This year his promising research also won him a seat as a speaker at the Keystone Symposia on sexual dimorphism in metabolism. Keystone Symposia provides competitive scholarships, which Quinn received, that allows winners to attend their conferences. "The recognition is unusual for a young scientist at his career level," Cidlowski said.
Quinn recognized the value of the mentorship he has received from Cidlowski. "[He] encourages us to pursue our intellectual interests and develop our own independent projects," Quinn said. "We routinely present our data in lab meetings, where the whole team contributes intellectually and helps troubleshoot."
Research offers promise for menopause symptoms
"This award is a real feather in his cap," Cidlowski said. For his part, Quinn is excited about future research. One interesting aspect of menopause is that its onset can be predicted, he pointed out. The cycle becomes irregular, so it can be mapped.
"Instead of reversing the metabolic complications associated with menopause, we might be able to initiate preventative treatment to block women from developing those detrimental symptoms and diseases to begin with."
Cidlowski underscored the possibilities of Quinn’s work. “The fundamental value of his studies is that they change the way that we think about and potentially can treat postmenopausal obesity in women. His findings suggest he might have a model that mimics that type of disease and offers a new approach to treating it.”
Quinn MA, Cidlowski JA. 2016. Endogenous hepatic glucocorticoid receptor signaling coordinates sex-biased inflammatory gene expression. FASEB J 30(2):971–982.
Quinn M, Ramamoorthy S, Cidlowski JA. 2014. Sexually dimorphic actions of glucocorticoids: beyond chromosomes and sex hormones. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1317:1–6.
(Wendy Anson, Ph.D., is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)