Published in DukeMed, December 2005

(Sidebar to “Egg Hunters“)

Tucked inside his lab in the Alex H. Sands Medical Building on the Duke campus, Thomas Price, MD, of the Duke Reproductive Endocrinology and Fertility division, is so engrossed in his research that he can barely stop to talk. That’s with good reason: Price is onto something so phenomenal it could affect far more than just fertility one day. But don’t expect him to toot his own horn.
“Tom could be the first man to walk on the moon, and he’d say it was no big deal,” says colleague and division chief David Walmer, MD, PhD.

But it is a very big deal. Price cloned a receptor for the sex steroid progesterone, which has always been thought of as the reproductive hormone of women, responsible for maintaining different aspects of breast function, lactation, and development. Except Price’s receptor doesn’t act like the usual sort: it appears to lack the DNA binding component that causes protein production. Instead, it lives on the membranes outside the cell nucleus.

“We were originally working on how female hormones regulate body fat distribution,” Price says, “and noticed that the progesterone receptor in fat tissue seemed to be different from the well-recognized progesterone receptors originally isolated from breast cancer and the uterus.”

Now, Price is investigating the clone’s effects, as well as which cells in the body have the receptor. “It causes changes in calcium that goes in and out of the membrane, and by doing that it affects the cell,” Price says. “What the research will do is increase our knowledge of how the hormone works, which is a step in the right direction.”

“The horizons are really unknown,” adds Walmer, “but this could impact everything from cancer biology to preterm labor to even diet, weight loss/gain issues. It could end up being huge.”

Article Copyright 2005 DukeMed magazine.