Kara McKinley, Ph.D.
Key Words: Puberty, uterus, menstruation, stem cells, regeneration
The first menstrual period is a defining event of puberty in girls. The onset of menstruation, which is called menarche, usually occurs between ages 11 and 15. In the years following menarche, girls frequently experience unpredictable or heavy menstrual bleeding and discomfort that can significantly affect their quality of life. There are many unanswered questions surrounding menarche, due to cultural taboos surrounding menstruation and the fact that most research on the uterus focuses on adult women. For this project, we will ask: How does the uterus changes when menstruation begins for the first time? In answering this question, we will also develop a system for future studies of menarche and menstrual disorders in adolescents.
One of the major reasons we know so little about menarche, and menstruation in general, is that humans belong to a very small group of animals that menstruate. Most researchers who study how human organs work use animal models such as mice and rats as proxies for humans, but these animals do not menstruate. Therefore, we need new systems to study the onset of menstruation. Recently, a rodent called the spiny mouse was found to menstruate. The spiny mouse gives us a unique opportunity to study menarche in a laboratory setting. Using this animal, we will be able to look at the uterus immediately before and after menstruation begins and to determine how its cells are altered by this milestone.