Deborah O’Brien, PhD, professor of cell biology and physiology, as well as pediatrics, is the 2015 recipient of the Distinguished Andrologist Award from the American Society of Andrology.
The award is given to a researcher who has made outstanding progress in the field of andrology – the medical specialty focused on men’s health, specifically male reproduction and urology.
O’Brien, who is also a member of the Laboratories for Reproductive Biology, the Curriculum in Genetics and Molecular Biology, and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, investigates molecular and cellular mechanisms that regulate the creation of sperm and sperm function. The main focus of her current research is sperm energy metabolism. Her lab’s analysis of mice that lack the GAPDHS gene provided the first in vivo evidence that glycolysis – the conversion of glucose to pyruvic acid – is essential for sperm motility and male fertility. This finding laid the foundation for her male contraceptive drug discovery project.
This translational project aims to identify safe, small-molecule inhibitors of GAPDHS, with the long-term goal of developing a non-hormonal contraceptive that directly blocks sperm function. The research also has implications for aiding male fertility.
In 2013, O’Brien won a Discovery Fast Track Award from GlaxoSmithKline.