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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Animal scientist studying ovarian dysfunction in cows to learn more about PCOS in women

A US-based researcher is hoping that by studying ovarian dysfunction caused by androgens in cows, they may be able to learn more about the condition of PCOS in women and come up with better treatments.

Francisco Diaz, associate professor of reproductive biology in the College of Agriculture Sciences, is leading the study.

The Penn State animal scientist has received a $650,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to lead a team conducting research on reproductive dysfunction in cattle.

Diaz will utilise the three-year award coming through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to study how high levels of androgen.

Androgen is a hormone produced by both males and females but more closely associated with the regulation of male characteristics such as increased muscle mass — which contribute to impaired follicular development and ovulation.

Excessive androgen stimulation is associated with significant ovarian dysfunction and could be a major cause of anovulation — when an egg, or ovum, does not release from a cow’s ovary.

However, the potential mechanism remains obscure, according to Diaz. Anovulation, with or without the presence of cystic ovarian follicles, is a “significant” cause of reproductive dysfunction in cattle.

Environmental factors such as heat stress, feed quality and hormonal imbalances all contribute to reduced reproductive efficiency, the researcher remarked.

Diaz’s long-term objectives are to first understand the ovarian causes of anovulation and cyst formation and then develop strategies to mitigate these effects to improve ovarian function and reproductive success.


In addition to improving animal agriculture, this work also has implications for the treatment of polycystic ovarian syndrome — often referred to as PCOS — in women, Diaz suggested.

PCOS is a condition characterised by high androgen levels and associated ovarian dysfunction, including anovulation.

“Cows are a good model to mimic ovarian function in women because they ovulate one egg per cycle, ovarian structures are of similar size, and the hormonal regulation of the ovary is similar,” he said.

The study will be conducted in vitro using cells from cows that have been processed for meat.

In a previous article on, we published details of a study on how milk restriction can impact calves’ ability to learn, which you can read about via this link.

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