The Buck Institute for Research on Aging has hired the first faculty for what the Novato-based research facility calls a “first of its kind in the world” center for the study of reproduction, longevity and equality for women.

Lei Lei, Ph.D.; Shiying Jin, Ph.D.; Francesca Duncan; Ph.D.; and Jennifer Garrison, Ph.D., are becoming part of the institute’s Center for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality. Work of the center will focus on “preventing or delaying ovarian aging.”

Beyond losing the ability to reproduce, “the end of female fertility sets off a cascade of negative health effects, and early menopause has been shown to correlate with early morbidity,” the center stated.

Lei and the team are planning on working to develop biomedical strategies to prevent or delay ovarian aging physiologically. Specifically, they hope to examine how the biological clock of ovarian aging is set initially and the fundamental differences between young and old oocytes, the cells in the ovary which are capable of forming ova. Female babies have more than 1 million oocytes, but 90% remain quiescent and undergo cell death.

“Drastic declines in oocyte quality and quantity in young and middle-aged women lead to ovarian aging and a significantly increased chance of infertility and birth defects,” the Buck announcement stated.

Lei, who has been appointed as associate professor and scientific director of the center, joins the Buck from the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan Medical School. Her research findings have published in Science, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and other prestigious journals.

Jin also is from the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan Medical School. He has been appointed as assistant professor of the Novato center.

The institute said his research focuses on maintaining female fertility, specifically by engineering ovarian tissue to protect and store young oocytes. Having worked on this process with mice, Jin hopes to establish an effective fertility preservation strategy in humans. He’s also studying regeneration of uterine linings.

“Disorders involving the regeneration of the uterine lining are common among women with increasing age, leading to a wide range of pathologies including infertility, endometriosis and uterine cancer,” the Institute stated.

“Our expertise in the basic biology of aging will enable and enrich their efforts to meet a critical need in promoting human health. Several of our labs are already teed up to work on joint projects,” said Eric Verdin, M.D., Buck Institute President and CEO.

Garrison, a Buck institute neuroscientist, is exploring the role of intertissue communication between the brain and reproductive organs in ovarian aging.

Duncan, an expert in ovarian aging in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, will also join the center as an adjunct professor.

The new center was established with a $6 million gift from Bay Area tech entrepreneur, attorney and philanthropist Nicole Shanahan and the Sergey Brin Family Foundation.