Kara L. McKinley   

President and Fellows of Harvard College
2022 Scholar

Research Interests

Regenerative strategies of the menstruating uterus

My laboratory uses the uterus to uncover mechanisms of human regeneration and to advance reproductive health. Every month during the menstrual cycle, substantial portions of the uterine lining (endometrium) are degraded and shed during menstruation. The endometrium is destroyed and rebuilt month after month, ultimately regenerating approximately 400 times over the reproductive lifespan. Thus, the endometrium is an exceptional resource to uncover mechanisms of regeneration. In addition, understanding this remarkable tissue is critical to address the longstanding unmet needs of hundreds of millions of patients around the world with infertility, endometriosis, adenomyosis, endometrial cancers, and abnormal uterine bleeding.

Despite this tremendous discovery potential and substantial relevance for public health, our molecular and cellular understanding of this recurring life event is sparse. One of the reasons for this is that much of our understanding of how organs work derives from experiments that use mice and rats as models for humans. However, mice and rats do not menstruate. My laboratory aims to use the African spiny mouse, which is the only rodent known to menstruate,
to study how menstruation occurs in healthy individuals and how these processes go awry in disease. Our long-term goal is to improve care for people with endometrial diseases and/or menstrual experiences that interfere with their quality of life.

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