Posted by on November 6, 2014 - 10:18am
 The following essay by Institute Director Woodruff was published this month in Science2034.

In 2007, I was asked by the Medical Sciences Graduate Students Association at the University of Calgary to participate in a symposium called “Pushing the Boundaries – Advances That Will Change the World in 20 Years.” My presentation topic was oncofertility—a word I had just coined to describe the intersection of two disciplines, oncology and fertility—and I was thrilled to share my thoughts and passion for this new field and the goal of helping young women with cancer protect their future reproductive health.

Oncofertility was just an idea 10 years ago. Today it is a distinct field of medicine, offering new hope to cancer patients who will survive their disease and have fertility options that prior generations lacked.  In the last year alone, 90 percent of young cancer patients at my institution received information about fertility as part of their cancer care. I cannot describe just how monumental this shift is for medical practice, with reproductive specialists and oncologists working together to improve patient care.  For the patients at my institution, the discussions taking place between these two very different disciplines have led to interventions—banking eggs, sperm, embryos or tissue—with the goal of preserving the option to have a future family. For some of our cancer survivors, that future is now, and they are the proud parent of a child they thought they might not be able to have.

Bench to bedside to babies – oncofertility – is now part of the normal lexicon of centers of excellence around the globe as oncologists and reproductive specialists make fertility after cancer a priority at the time of diagnosis. Yet, when I delivered my remarks in Calgary less than a decade ago, I presented this kind of collaborative patient care as the future of medicine. So, what is my prediction for 2034?

Simply put, within the next 20 years, I expect to preside over the elimination of my field.

It sounds odd to create and then hope to eliminate an entire field of science and medicine, but that is my prediction and my hope.  Let me tell you why.  Even as science has created a medical arsenal of early diagnostics (genetic and blood-based), and more effective chemotherapeutics and radiation therapy approaches, I believe there is much more to come. Through science we will create new, smarter therapeutics that will treat the disease without causing collateral damage to the ovary and testes.  We are learning more and more about the way the female egg and the male sperm respond to toxic drugs. Additionally, new technologies to better target drugs and radiation, as well as biologics that are specific to the disease, are on the horizon. Couple these technological advancements with a concerted effort to identify the triggers of cancer and to refocus our efforts on preventive measures that will either reduce the incidence of disease or diagnose it earlier and we will achieve better outcomes for patients. All of these advances – in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment – will one day make it possible to address cancer without affecting future reproductive health, making the word oncofertility obsolete.

So, by 2034, I hope to once again become a regular reproductive scientist, continuing to work out the complexities of oocyte quality, ovarian follicle biology, and reproductive health; knowing that young women and men with cancer around the world need not worry about their ability to have a family one day; looking back fondly on the days when we needed oncofertility; and recognizing how continuing advances in cancer research allowed us to ultimately place oncofertility within the archives of medical history.

Dr. Teresa Woodruff is the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, the Vice Chair of Research (OB/GYN), the Chief of the Division of Reproductive Science in Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine and Professor of Molecular Biosciences at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University. She is also the Director of the Northwestern University Women’s Health Research Institute.  Her work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Posted by on July 15, 2013 - 2:12pm

Teresa Woodruff, PhD, director of the Women’s Health Research Institute and chief of fertility preservation at Northwestern University was  inaugurated as president of the Endocrine Society- the world’s oldest, largest, and most active organization devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology.  She was handed the gavel at their 95th Annual Meeting at the end of June.

“Worldwide, the endocrinology community is facing a variety of challenges, including the colliding epidemics of obesity and diabetes, growing awareness of the health risks associated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the tension between global population expansion and personal reproductive needs, and the need to support scientific research in an environment with limited resources,” said Woodruff, also the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “As president of the Endocrine Society, I am looking forward to working with the talented clinicians and researchers in our membership to develop tactics and offer continued scientific leadership to address these issues.”

A reproductive endocrinologist, Woodruff has dedicated much of her research career to studying female reproductive health and infertility. So-Youn Kim, a postdoctoral fellow in Woodruff’s laboratory, presented the team’s research on ways to preserve the fertility of women who are treated for cancer during the recent four day meeting in San Francisco.


Posted by on March 21, 2012 - 9:35am

Since 1932, the Northwestern Alumnae Association  has honored alumni who have distinguished themselves as outstanding professional and personal achievers in their fields and who have loyally dedicated their time and service to their alma mater. This year’s award recipients have earned acclaim in business, engineering, journalism, the arts, law, athletics, medicine and health care. Among this year's winners is Teresa K. Woodruff, the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, and professor of Molecular Biosciences at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Woodruff received a Ph.D. from Weinberg in 1989. Woodruff has devoted the better part of her research career to female reproductive health and infertility. She also serves as chief of the newly created Division of Fertility Preservation at Feinberg and is the founder and director of the Institute for Women’s Health Research at Northwestern (IWHR) the organization that sponsors this blog site.  Congratulations, Dr. Woodruff!

Posted by on December 19, 2011 - 1:21pm

Dr. Woodruff (in the red jacket) meets with President Obama

Teresa Woodruff, Director of the Institute for Women's Health Research (creator of this blog site)  and the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, received the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring at the White House from President Barack Obama Monday, Dec. 12.

The award was for an Institute program called the Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond. The program mentors urban minority high-school girls for college and careers in science and health.

“Meeting President Obama in the Oval Office was a true honor and humbling event,” said Woodruff.   “In his remarks, the president affirmed his deep commitment to science and engineering and the role that basic science plays in the health of our nation. He made time to congratulate us on our efforts and comment on the critical role that science mentorship plays in the development of the next generation of innovators on whom we count to solve our world’s most pressing needs.”

“This award is for the hundreds of faculty, staff and students throughout Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital who donate their time to mentorship,” Woodruff added. “Our program focuses on the next generation of female leaders. Our goal is to ensure that the future is filled with a diverse group of problem solvers ready to meet the world’s challenges.”

The Women's Health Science Program for High School Girls and Beyond (WHSP), a four-year-old program, targets primarily African American and Latina girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in Chicago. The young women can study at four different Northwestern academies: cardiology, physical science, infectious disease and oncofertility. The science program is part of the Institute for Women’s Health Research at the Feinberg School.

Carole LaBonne, an associate professor of molecular biosciences at Northwestern and faculty member in the mentoring program, emphasized the importance of increasing the representation of women and minorities in the STEM disciplines.

"The program developed by Dr. Woodruff has had amazing impact and is truly transformative,” said LaBonne, a member of Northwestern’s diversity committee. “It should be used as a model for how universities across the country can address the pipeline problem by helping to educate and excite students from underrepresented groups about science from an early age."

Of the 90 students who have participated in the Women’s Health Science Program from the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School in Chicago, 18 are seniors in high school, 70 are attending college and two have received undergraduate degrees. Of those attending college, 51 percent are pursuing science majors.

WSHP has grown beyond Chicago through Woodruff’s efforts. Similar informal education programs based on the Chicago model have been running in San Diego, Oregon and Philadelphia. Plans also are underway to expand the program to other Chicago high schools.