The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation $2.57 million to study the impact of sex hormones and their receptors on chronic diseases.
OMRF scientist Michael Stout, Ph.D., received the five-year grant to study an estrogen receptor that may play a role in the likelihood and severity of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and chronic liver disease in males.
“We know males and females age differently and develop chronic diseases in a sex-specific manner,” said Stout, who joined OMRF this fall. “Females tend to live longer, and males often display age-related diseases earlier in life. A potential contributing factor is sex-specific hormones.”
While certain conditions are more common in males, the gender gap frequently closes when females undergo menopause.
Previous research by Stout and others has shown that in male research models, a type of estrogen called 17α-estradiol increases lifespan and “healthspan,” the period of life without disease and disability. The same estrogen has only minor effects in females.
“Our goal is to determine the mechanisms that enable this estrogen to slow disease onset and extend lifespan in males,” Stout said. “Receptors act like an on-off switch for a certain activity in the cell. If we remove specific receptors and the benefits of 17α-estradiol disappear, we will know we are on the right track.”
The grant will also support research into why 17α-estradiol does not have the same benefit in females, Stout said. The researchers will limit natural estrogen production and provide 17α-estradiol as a replacement while looking for changes in disease outcomes. “This could tell us something important about sex-specific aging processes,” he said.
The work will put scientists a step closer to developing drugs that can help extend lifespan and mitigate disease.
“Understanding the differences in how males and females age is a critical barrier to developing sex-specific treatments,” Stout said. “This is an important building block in combatting diseases of aging and chronic illness.”
The grant, R01 AG070035-01A1, is funded by the National Institute on Aging, a part of the NIH.