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Release: August 3, 1999

UI gynecologist receives grant to study chlamydia and infertility

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A University of Iowa Health Care gynecologist has received a three-year $245,000 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study how the sexually transmitted disease (STD) chlamydia causes tubal factor infertility.

Chlamydia is the most common bacterial infection in the United States, with teens and young adults among the most infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kevin Ault, M.D., UI assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, received the grant Aug. 1 as part of a Mentored Clinical Scientist Development Award. The award is designed to help physicians conduct laboratory research related to their clinical areas of expertise. Michael A. Apicella, M.D., UI professor and head of microbiology, will serve as Ault's mentor.

"Previous research has shown that chlamydia causes almost all cases of damage to the fallopian tubes," Ault said. "This grant will help us study how the immune response to the chlamydia infection actually causes the damage."

Damage to the fallopian tubes accounts for about 23 percent of all infertility cases nationwide. The other leading common reasons for infertility are sperm or ovulation (release of an egg) problems. Using blood samples drawn from women with infertility, Ault will study lymphocytes, white blood cells that respond to infection.

Chlamydia is considered the "stealth bomber" of STDs, Ault said, because it does not cause symptoms in about 75 percent of women and 50 percent of men infected with the disease. Women who contract the STD in their teens or early 20s often do not learn they have the disease until they are in their late 20s or early 30s and try unsuccessfully to conceive children. Men who contract the disease can pass it on to their partners.

"The fallopian tubes are very fine structures," Ault explained. "Normally, cilia lining the tubes help bring the egg and sperm together. But in women who have had chlamdyia, the tubes are stiff and scarred, and the cilia are damaged."