Centre for Reproductive Health

Duncan group

Investigating how the ovary works in health and disease

Professor Colin Duncan

Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Science

Contact details



The Centre for Reproductive Health
Institute for Regeneration and Repair (IRR)
4-5 Little France Drive
Edinburgh BioQuarter

Post Code
EH16 4UU

Research Interests

Our laboratory-based studies investigate how the ovary works in health and disease. As well as examining crucial pathways responsible for normal fertility we use our research to discover how the ovary can repeatedly remodel and repair itself without problem and how the environment before birth can program lifelong abnormalities of reproductive and metabolic function.

Although we have other areas of ongoing and collaborative research there are two main areas that we study.

Resilience, Repair and Replacement

The human corpus luteum is of fundamental importance in the regulation of human fertility. It is a transient gland in the ovary that is formed after the egg is released and lasts for two weeks. It is the most active gland in the body producing huge amounts of the hormone progesterone. It is up to 2cm in diameter and has a blood supply, per unit mass, eight times that of the kidney. That means that during its formation there is an intense and predictable development of new blood vessels. As this process of angiogenesis is hugely important in cancer biology, inflammation and cardiovascular disease by studying how it is regulated in the corpus luteum we get insights that translate to other research disciplines.

In the absence of pregnancy the corpus luteum will undergo intense remodelling to lose its blood supply and disappear without scarring. It is this process of luteolysis that causes a woman to have a normal period. If the woman conceives a hormone released from the pregnancy blocks this regression to maintain the structure, function and blood supply of the corpus luteum. It is this that delays the period, supports the pregnancy and allows human fertility. Even although it is so important we don’t understand how it works. We are studying the effects of pregnancy hormone on the ovary to determine how the corpus luteum disappears and how this can be blocked. This also gives us insights into the scarless healing seen in the ovary that has important implications for other body systems and tissue resilience, repair and replacement.

Living a long and healthy life

We are studying how reproduction and ovarian structure and function are programmed by alterations in steroids in the fetal environment before birth. Polycystic ovary syndrome is the most common endocrine and reproductive disorder of women. It affects 7-8% of women and is associated with many clinical problems including irregular periods, infertility, hirsuitism, miscarriage, obesity, insulin resistance, fatty liver and diabetes. We know if there is a transient change to the steroid environment before birth we can induce these lifelong problems. We are using a large animal model of PCOS to study how the hormonal, ovarian and metabolic abnormalities are programmed before birth with a view to their early detection and manipulation to promote a long and healthy life. We are able to specifically alter the fetal steroid environment for a short time in pregnancy and investigate how these alterations translate into long-term changes in the reproductive, ovarian and metabolic features of the adult.

Current research projects

  • Molecular regulation of the structure and function of the human corpus luteum
  • Mechanisms for abrogation of LH signalling in human steroidogenic cells
  • The effect of maternal and fetal gestational exposure to testosterone on the structure and function of metabolic and reproductive tissues
  • Adipose tissue structure and function in PCOS
  • Development and treatment of obesity associated with PCOS

Principal collaborators

  • Professor A.S. McNeilly (Emeritus, Edinburgh University)
  • Professor S. Franks (Imperial College)
  • Professor M.T. Rae (Edinburgh Napier University)
  • Professor A.W. Horne (Edinburgh University)
  • Professor P. Fowler (Aberdeen University)
  • Professor HM Picton (University of Leeds)
  • Professor E.E. Telfer (Edinburgh University)
  • Dr V. Sboros (Heriot Watt University)
  • Dr J. Nio-Kobayashi (Hokkaido University)
  • Dr K. Siemienowicz (Edinburgh Napier University)