Researcher at University of Toledo studies male infertility

September 6, 2016

Remember studying basic cells in high school biology and trying to memorize each and every piece of what makes up our body and helps us to function? Our body is made up entirely of cells. The very basis of our existence holds the answers for some very relevant problems in human life. Tomer Avidor-Reiss, associate professor of biological science, tries to answer some of these questions. He has received a grant to help further his research on centrioles in cellular reproduction.



“We started in with the specific organelles in our cells in the context of reproduction, is where most of our reproduction is,” said Avidor-Reiss. “Like our body has organs, our cells have organelles. There are several organelles, we are studying one specific organelle called the centrosome. The centrosome is made of two centrioles. Every cell has exactly two centrioles and the numbers are very important. Things go wrong, we have too many: cancer.”


Avidor-Reiss has been focusing his studies on the human cell, its centrioles and where they come from.


“So the very basic question is when we started our life, how did we get our first centrioles?” Avidor-Reiss said. “When we start our life, we get half of our DNA from the mother and half of it from the father. Actually, almost everything else comes from the mother. There is only one thing that comes from the father and those are the centrioles. The question is: how do we get the first two centrioles of the cell, of the zygote?”


His research has earned him a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The two-year $147,500 grant supports his research of a genome-wide drosophila RNAi screen for regulators of centrosome reduction. This isn’t the first time Avidor-Reiss’s research has been funded by the NIH. In 2012, he received a $1,651,244 grant to study the mechanism of pericentriolar material assembly during centrosome biogenesis. He also received a grant to identify the commercial need for male factor infertility test for $50,000 in May 2016. In June 2016, he received a $37,492 for research supplements to promote diversity in health-related research.


Avidor-Reiss’s research has reached a huge breakthrough in the field of biological sciences.


“We’ve discovered there is a new type of centriole,” Avidor-Reiss said. “It doesn’t look like a centriole; that’s the reason no one had discovered it before. And one of the reasons it does not look like a normal centriole, is because it is modified. During the process of sperm, there is a process that modifies the centrioles. Our studies show that they don’t go away, they are just remote. They look like something you don’t recognize and they aren’t there, but they are there.”


The research done by Avidor-Reiss has real-life applications. Centrioles in sperm cells are integral to the reproduction process. Avidor-Reiss said if there are more or less than two centrioles in a sperm cell, it can lead to infertility or the abnormal development of the embryo.


“And of course these are all things we are concerned about because we all want to be parents someday,” Avidor-Reiss said. “One out of eight couples actually have these problems. And then once you have a kid, you want to make sure that the kid is actually healthy.”


Avidor-Reiss is working with fruit flies for his research, which have a short life span and have similar characteristics to humans. It’s difficult to conduct this type of research with human sperm and oocytes because there is a limited amount you can do without fusing the two cells. By studying the fruit flies, Avidor-Reiss has a model to start from.


“Our research combines basic cell biology in the context of reproduction and we’re trying to make a connection to human health,” Avidor-Reiss said. “To provide insight, to be able to avoid problems and treat, and to think of ideas, saying, ‘Okay we have infertility, are there ways to treat it?’”


Avidor-Reiss hopes that his research will help solve issues with male infertility and problems during embryonic development.

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