The first round of QUEX PhD candidates are working on the following projects. Please note, these positions have been filled.

15. Reproductive ageing in women

UQ academic lead

Professor Gita Mishra, Head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Division and Professor of Life Course Epidemiology, School of Public Health

Exeter academic lead

Dr Anna Murray, Associate Professor in Human Genetics, Associate Professor in Human Genetics

Project description

Women will spend half of their lifetime post-menopause as the number of over 60 year olds worldwide is predicted to double, from 10 to 22% in the next 50 years. The fastest growing age group is the over 80s, where women outnumber men by 2:1. The menopause is associated with dramatic changes in circulating hormone levels and concomitant physiological changes such as weight gain and depression. The timing of the menopause transition has been associated with various health outcomes: women with later menopause have increased risk of breast cancer and decreased risk of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease, but we do not yet know the full impact of menopause timing and treatments, such as hormone replacement therapy, on age-related conditions and lifespan.

In this studentship the student will work with world-leading groups in the genetics and epidemiology of reproductive lifespan. Professor Murray’s group in Exeter has led recent high profile studies on the genetics of menopause and menarche timing, published in Nature and Nature Genetics. We now know that several hundred genetic variants are involved in determining the length of a woman’s reproductive lifespan. The non-genetic factors involved in reproductive ageing are less well characterised and will be investigated as part of this studentship.  Professor Mishra’s group in Queensland has led the InterLACE International consortium on women’s health which includes mostly longitudinal data from over 200,000 women. The Queensland group has particular strengths in the development of methods for longitudinal analyses. These studies have demonstrated links between reproductive lifespan and health outcomes such as type 2 diabetes and depression.

The student will:

  1. Use genetic data to investigate the health outcomes associated with menopause timing. Students will have access the various large genetic datasets available to the supervisors such as the UK Biobank with 500,000 individuals. Previous projects have used genetic risk scores for menopause to prove a causal association between menopause timing and breast cancer. Future projects will include testing the role of menopause timing on cardiovascular disease.
  2. Investigate the lifelong factors that influence reproductive ageing. An invaluable study in this aspect of the studentship will be the prospective data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH). Health assessments have been made at 7 time points since 1996 and include detailed information on reproductive history, such as fertility and pregnancy loss. In 2018 biological data including various hormone measures will also be available to the student.

The objective of this study is to increase our understanding of the factors and processes that contribute to female reproductive ageing and determine the impact of reproductive ageing on health.