Unlocking the secrets of cells and DNA

Sue Hammoud, Ph.D.Nearly 1 in 8 couples in the U.S. face infertility, and about half of those cases can be attributed to sperm abnormalities in the male partner. As the root causes often remain a mystery, new research into the basic biology behind sperm development could one day lead to renewed hope for people wanting to grow their families.

Sue Hammoud, Ph.D., is working closely with colleagues in Human Genetics, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics to provide new insight into sperm development. Using single-cell RNA sequencing, the multidisciplinary team analyzed more than 30,000 cells from mouse testes, measuring the activity of thousands of genes in each cell. As a result, the team generated the most complete catalog of cells in the testes to date, illustrating how sperm develop from stem cell to mature cells in a continuous program.

 “To learn this for the first time is quite remarkable. Only by understanding germ cell and somatic cell interactions can we begin to drive this process efficiently and safely in a dish,” Dr. Hammoud says. “Foundational research such as this sets the stage for, hopefully, finding ways to restore fertility in men.”

Other U-M basic science researchers are providing critical insights into cellular function, from how cells move and divide during development in utero, to how the advanced cellular editing technology CRISPR can be used to cut both DNA and RNA, and how a genetic mutation in heart cells can lead to sudden death in epilepsy. U-M Medical School researchers are attempting to unlock the secrets of cells, DNA and RNA to more fully understand how these fundamental building blocks contribute to health and disease. Basic science research helps reveal the mechanisms behind how our bodies work and provides the groundwork for treatment interventions to allow us to live longer, healthier lives.

Sue Hammoud, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Human Genetics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Urology and winner of the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award.

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