Last year, Amanda Patterson was looking for a place where she could combine her reproductive research interests in animals and her stem cell research interests in women. She found the perfect opportunity at the University of Missouri.
Patterson joined the Division of Animal Sciences in November 2018 as an assistant professor. She also has a joint appointment in Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health with the MU School of Medicine. Patterson’s research is focused on understanding how the uterus is repaired after pregnancy, in both animals and women.
“During pregnancy, there is a dramatic remodeling, growth and change that happens within the uterus,” Patterson said. “There is a lot of tissue damage that occurs. And while the uterus is doing what it was designed to do, it’s still damage. That tissue has to be repaired properly after pregnancy. We’re looking at regeneration of different cell types to allow for subsequent pregnancies.”
The animal side of her research will focus on dairy cattle and endometritis, a bacterial infection that results in an inflammatory response after pregnancy.
“We’re interested to know if the repair of the uterus is affected if dairy cows get this bacterial infection and inflammatory response. Or is that infection allowed to happen because the repair didn’t happen to protect the uterus?” Patterson said. “If you don’t have proper repair and barriers set up again, it might allow for bacterial infections to infiltrate.”
Patterson’s research related to women is focused on mechanisms of repair, more specifically stem cells. She describes herself as a stem cell biologist.
“I’m interested in the stem cells in the muscle layer of the uterus,” Patterson said. “Those cells are thought to give rise to benign tumors, called uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroids are incredibly common and while they are benign, they can impact the livelihood of women. I’m trying to see how they form and how we can treat them better. The only definitive treatment is a hysterectomy.”
Patterson is looking at the mechanisms of the repair process. Her research focuses on looking at that process under normal circumstances, and seeing what happens when the process becomes hijacked under different diseases.
“Adult stem cells are thought to be a big player in repairing the uterus after pregnancy,” Patterson said. “I look at how those stem cells function normally, and then how they might lead to the development of different tumors, cancerous or benign. If we can gain an understanding of how those stem cells function normally, that gives us insight into better diagnostic and therapeutic options for the disease states.”
Patterson grew up in Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree from Colorado State University. While she began college with a goal of eventually going to veterinary school, that ended up not being in the cards. Patterson earned her degree in equine science.
Patterson stayed at Colorado State University to finish her master’s degree in equine reproduction.
“While I was taking an equine reproduction course, I saw that there was a master’s program there,” Patterson said. “As I did a little more digging, I realized they have a world-renowned group.”
Patterson felt her focus was too narrow with equine reproduction after finishing her master’s degree. She attended Washington State University, where she got her Ph.D. in animal sciences, with a new goal in mind – to work at the Smithsonian and research breeding programs with large cats.
“I realized pretty quickly that a breeding program of that nature was not what I wanted to do,” Patterson said. “However, I was introduced to different animal models while I was working there. That led me to reproduction and stem cells.”
Patterson found a program where her research strengths could also be translated to human disease at Michigan State University. She was hired as a postdoctoral fellow and then a research assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology.
The move to Mizzou allowed Patterson to combine her research interests in animals and humans.
“Everyone at MU has been very welcoming and helpful,” Patterson said. “We have a big reproduction group here that is incredible. I was very excited to interview with this group and humbled to be part of this group.”
Patterson is getting more and more settled in and has been working to set up her lab and continue her research.
“There are obviously a lot of things that you don’t learn in graduate school, such as setting up your own lab or writing grants,” Patterson said. “Both definitely take certain skill sets and neither happens overnight. The rest of the faculty here have been so encouraging during this process. Everyone wants to see me succeed. It’s not, ‘I, I, I’ – they see the value of the team.”