2021 Howell-UCSD Scholars: Reproductive Health as Main Area of Research

2021 Howell-UCSD Scholars: Reproductive Health as Main Area of Research

The 2021 Howell-UCSD Scholars will research reproductive health in women.  We know research requires a constant infusion of talent to serve the community and society at large.  A key component of our mission is to inspire and fund undergraduate and graduate researchers to accelerate solutions to pressing women’s health issues, for today, and for the future.  As a matter of fact, the majority of the Howell scholars are pursuing a career in the biosciences, medical, research, academic and public health fields.

“There are numerous studies that indicate that students who do research as undergrads gain both professional and personal skills such as problem solving, communication and teamwork,” comments Dr. Mandy Butler, Chair of the Scholarship Committee.  “Research experience also helps students clarify their career goals and prepares them for success in their graduate school environments.  Many of our students would not be able to participate in research unless we provide them with financial support, thus by offering scholarships to deserving students, we are helping to foster the interest of students in research careers and improve their ability to succeed in any career.”

In 2021, the Howell-UCSD Scholars explore different areas of reproductive health in women. Each addresses the relevance of research for the future of women’s health.  We believe that today’s Howell Scholar will have the tools to discover the next scientific breakthrough in women’s health research.

Congratulations on the Howell Scholarship Award.  We wish you success in your next endeavor!

Celine Bojo
“The Effects of ZIC1 mutations on Kisspeptin and GnRH Expression in the HPG Axis
Mentor: Pam Mellon, Reproductive Medicine

Celine’s research project has two goals: to identify new genes related to the HPG axis and validate the mutations found in patients diagnosed with IGD by determining if these genes are associated with the patients’ disorder.The Mellon Lab in which Celine works focuses on a reproductive disorder called Isolated Gonadotropin‐Releasing Hormone Deficiency (IGD). This disorder is caused by a malfunction with neurons in the brain that normally cause the pituitary to release LH and FSH, the hormones that in turn control the levels of the sex hormones estradiol and progesterone. Insufficient amounts of LH and FSH ultimately results in a phenotype of delayed or absent puberty along with infertility. Despite IGD being a genetic disorder, only half of patients diagnosed with IGD possess an identified causative mutation.

Jessica Jang
“A new Kiss1hrGFP x Sun1GFP crossed transcriptomic mouse model to analyze Kisspeptin Neurons”
Mentor: Kellie Breen Church, Reproductive Medicine

Jessica is working with a new mouse model which she hopes becomes a useful tool for many scientists and researchers to understand how stress alters the function of the Kisspeptin neurons and thus estrogen production. Estradiol, more commonly known as estrogen, is widely known to contribute to women’s reproductive function but it is also important for bone, brain, and metabolic function, and more research is critical to understand the mechanism of estrogen production. Within the brain, Kisspeptin‐containing neurons have recently been found to be the highest order of neurons in the estrogen production pathway along the hypothalamus‐pituitary‐gonadal (HPG) axis. Jessica’s lab has evidence that these neurons are inhibited by stressors or stress hormones such as cortisol.

Maia Kirkegaard
“Understanding how the RGA‐3 GAP localizes to the cortex during cytokinesis”
Mentor: Karen Oegema, Biological Sciences

The goal of Maia’s work is to understand the important role that an enzyme called RGA‐3 GAP plays in assembly of the contractile ring. She will explore how changes to regions of the protein RGA‐3 GAP may lead to failure of cytokinesis, giving rise to cells with extra copies of genetic material and a higher risk of becoming cancerous. Cytokinesis completes cell division during mitosis by partitioning the contents of one mother cell into two daughter cells. Cytokinesis is accomplished by constriction of a ring made up of filaments that around the cell middle that constrict to divide the cell into two daughter cells. During cytokinesis chromatids are transported into the cytoplasm of the separating daughter cells thereby ensuring that chromosome number is maintained from one cell generation to the next.

Farsamin Warisha
“Deciphering Mechanisms of Global Transcription”
Mentor: Heidi Cook‐Anderson, Reproductive Medicine

Global Transcriptional Silencing (GTS) is a highly conserved event that occurs in the growing oocyte or egg and is vital for a proper oocyte‐to‐embryo transition. The production of RNA by an enzyme Polymerase II (RNAP II) is silenced or inhibited during the late stages of oocyte growth and is not fully reactivated until the 2‐cell stage embryo in mice. While this is a fundamental process for successful fertilization and embryo development, the mechanisms by which RNAP II is silenced during GTS are not well understood. Farsamin will study the molecular mechanisms that control GTS.


The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is dedicated to making a long-term, positive impact on women’s health. We help keep the women we love healthy by raising the importance of scientific research specifically dedicated to the most pressing issues in women’s health.

  • Our outreach program presents reliable, science-based studies with access to cutting-edge research that promotes health education and self-advocacy for the long-term health and well-being of women, their families and the community in which they live.
  • We inspire and fund undergraduate and graduate scholars to conduct critical research on women’s health issues and help create the next generation of scientists and physicians addressing women’s health today and tomorrow.
  • We award pilot grants to scientists conducting research benefiting under-represented women in the community, bringing our vision of advancing women’s health full-circle.






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