Anne Marie Jukic, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Fertility and Reproductive Health Group, learned Nov. 23, 2020 that she had won a highly competitive Bench-to-Bedside grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This two-year, $300,000 grant will fund a clinical study of how vitamin D supplements may improve women’s reproductive health.
Jukic becomes one of two NIEHS researchers to receive this award in the past decade, following her Epidemiology Branch colleague, Chandra Jackson, Ph.D.
Jackson, who won the grant in 2018, noted that Jukic’s award recognizes that her research can produce findings that may be readily translated into action to better protect human health.
Shining light on a key public health issue
Jukic’s research group drives several studies of factors that influence fertility and early pregnancy. Her vitamin D project is one such effort. Vitamin D is naturally produced in the skin in response to sunlight and is also readily available as a low-cost, over-the-counter supplement. Prior animal studies point to a link between vitamin D and reproductive health, although human data is relatively lacking. Jukic has tried to fill this critical gap.
Her previous observational studies (see citations below) associated lower vitamin D levels with increased risk of abnormal menstrual cycles and impaired fertility in women. Using the Bench-to-Bedside funding, Jukic will follow these observational results with a clinical trial to assess whether vitamin D supplementation improves menstrual function.
She noted that this trial will help determine the biological pathways underlying the relationship between vitamin D and fertility.
“Dr. Jukic’s planned research tackles an important but potentially unrecognized public health issue,” said Dale Sandler, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch. “Vitamin D supplementation could prove to be a viable low-cost intervention and alternative to other more costly and invasive treatment for infertility related to menstrual irregularities.”
For her clinical trial, Jukic wants to include at least 250 women and evaluate various endpoints, including menstrual cycle patterns and levels of hormones important in the menstrual cycle. Given the large scale of the project, collaboration will be key. Partners in her study include:
- Chandra Jackson, Ph.D., NIEHS.
- Donna Baird, Ph.D., NIEHS.
- Alison Motsinger-Reif, Ph.D., NIEHS.
- Anne Steiner, M.D., Duke University.
- Katherine Kuhn, University of Colorado.
- Nanette Santoro, M.D., University of Colorado.
“The best part of the [Bench-to-Beside] award is that it supports collaboration between in-house and external scientists,” Jukic said.
Further research initiatives
Jukic is also driving other innovative projects on vitamin D and reproductive health. Her collaborative project with Francesco Demayo, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory, uses cutting-edge tools to profile molecular changes in mice that receive vitamin D. This laboratory-based study will provide useful mechanistic data that may enhance Jukic’s vitamin D clinical trial.
The NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health awarded Jukic funding to study the association between vitamin D, inflammation, and fertility. She discussed this work Dec. 15 at the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Society of Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiologic Research.
Most recently, Jukic published collaborative research with scientists in Bangladesh and Canada, looking at the relationship between vitamin D and toxic metal levels during pregnancy. This paper is a paper of the month(https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2021/1/papers/dir/#a4) elsewhere in this issue.
Jukic AMZ, Steiner AZ, Baird DD. 2015. Lower plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with irregular menstrual cycles in a cross-sectional study. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 13(1):20.
Jukic AMZ, Upson K, Harmon QE, Baird DD. 2016. Increasing serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D is associated with reduced odds of long menstrual cycles in a cross-sectional study of African-American women. Fertil Steril 106(1):172–179.e2.
Jukic AMZ, Wilcox AJ, McConnaughey DR, Weinberg CR, Steiner AZ. 2018. 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and long menstrual cycles in a prospective cohort study. Epidemiology 29(3):388–396.
Jukic AMZ, Zuchniak A, Qamar H, Ahmed T, Al Mahmud A, Roth DE. 2020. Vitamin D treatment during pregnancy and maternal and neonatal cord blood metal concentrations at delivery: results of a randomized controlled trial in Bangladesh. Environ Health Perspect 128(11):117007.
(Dahea You, Pharm.D., Ph.D. is an Intramural Research Training Award postdoctoral fellow in the Biomolecular Screening Branch of the Division of the National Toxicology Program.)