CRS Alumni Spotlight on Julia Balough
Julia Balough is a graduate of the MS-RSM program, class of 2019. Her thesis research, mentored by Dr. Theresa Woodruff, focused on the role of zinc in the first cell fate determination in the mouse blastocyst. Julia currently works in the Reproductive Biology Hub and manages the lab of Dr. Francesca Duncan at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
Name: Julia Balough
MS-RSM Class of 2019
Thesis mentor: Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD
Thesis title: Investigating the role of intracellular zinc on murine blastocyst development and the effect on cell fate determination in the blastocyst
What is your connection to the CRS community (mentor and position) and what is your current position?
I am an alum of the Master of Reproductive Science and Medicine program (MS-RSM 2019). While at Northwestern, I did my thesis work in the lab of Dr. Teresa Woodruff investigating the role of zinc in the first cell fate determination in the mouse blastocyst. Currently I am the Operations Leader of the Reproductive Biology Hub, a collaborative Core facility geared to increase awareness and support studies of the reproductive system in the aging field, as well as manage the lab of Dr. Francesca Duncan at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
Could you describe your current research/studies?
My work focuses on investigating the mechanisms that underlie reproductive decline with age in women. The female reproductive system is the first organ system to age in humans and does so decades prior to other organ systems. It is well established that the aging reproductive system contributes to infertility in women; however, menopause also contributes to an increase in a variety of health risks such as bone loss, cardiovascular events, certain cancers as well as decreased life expectancy. While the aging field has made great strides in extending the human lifespan, the age in which women undergo menopause has remained unchanged. Thus, there is a need to extend the female reproductive lifespan in order to conserve fertility as well as the protective endocrine profile associated with the young reproductive system to promote longer, healthier lives. Furthermore, my research focuses on the increasing population of offspring born from advanced reproductive aged parents as we do not yet understand the effects of parental aging during conception and development on a child’s general health and reproductive potential.
What aspect(s) of CRS did you find most valuable?
As someone who is passionate about reproductive health, I was thrilled to find a community at Northwestern that shares the same interests. CRS provides a physical space to interact with individuals in the reproductive field as well as support students during their training. In addition, CRS provides an incredible platform for trainees and experts to connect across institutions and the globe to share ideas, collaborate, and increase awareness of the important research in our field.
What has been the most valuable aspect to your training as a reproductive scientist in CRS?
I am grateful to the mentors I found at my time at Northwestern and through CRS. The support I have received from CRS facility and colleagues during my training has been essential to my growth as a scientist.
What would you recommend to junior scientists in order for them succeed in their scientific careers?
It is amazing to find a community of individuals who support the same goal as you and are interested in playing a role in your success. Carve out opportunity for yourself in every experience. The connections you make and the skills you learn will follow you and support you as your career progresses. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
What do you think will be the next big contribution in the reproductive biology field?
I am thrilled the advances in our understanding of ovarian aging may lead to therapies to slow or halt these mechanisms to preserve fertility and increase female reproductive longevity.
Do you have any notable stories from your time in CRS?
I have fond memories of studying for various classes in the CRS space during my time at Northwestern. I still keep in touch with many of my classmates, lab mates, and faculty.