Teresa Woodruff

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Teresa Woodruff
Alma materOlivet Nazarene University, Northwestern University
EmployerNorthwestern University

Teresa K. Woodruff (born December 7, 1963) is an internationally recognized American medical researcher in human reproduction and oncology, with a focus on ovarian biology, endocrinology, bioengineering, and women's health. She is the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor and Vice Chair for Research and Chief of the Division of Reproductive Science in Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Woodruff is Dean of The Graduate School and Professor in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She is credited with coining the term oncofertility and founded the Oncofertility Consortium at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She also is founder and chief of the Division of Fertility Preservation and founder and director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University.


Dr. Woodruff graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology and Chemistry from the Olivet Nazarene University in 1985, and was named the Maggie Sloan Crawford Graduate, the highest award given to a matriculating senior.[1] In 2015, she returned to deliver the graduation commencement address and in 2016 was awarded the highest honor to an alumni, the “O” Award.[2] She completed her graduate study at Northwestern University, graduating with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Cell Biology in 1989.[3] She did postdoctoral work at Genentech, Inc in South San Francisco, CA before returning to Northwestern to join the faculty in 1995.


Ovarian biology research[edit]

Dr. Woodruff’s scientific successes started early in her career—in 1986, as a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Kelly Mayo at Northwestern University, she cloned the subunits that form the peptide hormones inhibin and activin, placing her at the forefront of modern reproductive molecular biology.[4] She thrived within the strong collaborative environment of the Mayo and Schwartz labs—Neena B. Schwartz discovered inhibin in 1977 at Northwestern—allowing her to rapidly describe inhibin subunit regulation during the rat estrus cycle, publishing her results in Science in 1988.[5] These peptide hormones are powerful and their absence causes sterility. This work was recognized in 2000 by the Endocrine Society Weitzman Award, given to a scientist of exceptional promise under the age of 40.[6]

After completing her doctorate in 1989, Dr. Woodruff continued her work on inhibin at Genentech Inc, where she applied her expertise to the development of inhibin and activin assays,[7][8] technologies that are still in use today for the diagnosis of Down syndrome pregnancies and assessing the ovarian reserve. She is named as inventor on five patents based on her work at Genentech. Dr. Woodruff continued her research into the physiology of inhibin and activin in pituitary and ovarian function in rodent,[9] and was the first to evaluate the effects of recombinant human inhibin and activin as drugs in primate models.[10]

Dr. Woodruff returned to Northwestern University in 1995, and focused her lab’s efforts on understanding inhibin and activin actions and interactions within the pituitary-gonadal axis, specifically characterizing the regulation of subunit assembly and ligand processing in the ovary, the ligands’ role in paracrine regulation of folliculogenesis, and their signal transduction pathways in the regulation of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). More recently, she detailed the structure of activin in a productive collaboration with Theodore Jardetzky, now at Stanford University. Together they solved the crystal structures of activin with its receptor,[11] and with its bioneutralizing binding protein follistatin.[12] These structures not only revealed important clues about ligand function, but have also provided invaluable tools for designing therapeutics and diagnostics that are being applied to inhibin/activin-dependent diseases. Recent work includes the use of in silico designed activin antagonists based on the structure of activin bound to its receptor, with potential applications in treatment of cancer-related cachexia.[13] Dr. Woodruff’s lab continues to dissect the mechanisms controlling inhibin biosynthesis, assembly, and secretion and to characterize the activin signal transduction pathways.

One of the key questions in reproductive science is what makes a good egg that can be fertilized and produce healthy offspring. With inorganic chemist Dr. Tom O’Halloran, Dr. Woodruff discovered a novel role of inorganic metals, specifically zinc, in the regulation of oocyte maturation[14] and at the moment of fertilization.[15] These studies led to an entirely new line of research into how extracellular factors can provide clues about the health of the oocyte—information that may be useful for IVF clinics. The first indication that zinc might directly regulate mammalian oocyte maturation used single-cell elemental analytical methods at the Argonne National Laboratory that allowed a precise determination of changes in total zinc concentrations in individual eggs across the last 12-14 hours of oocyte maturation. These studies established that zinc is the most abundant transition metal in the fully-grown mouse oocyte, egg, and early embryo, and that its concentration is nearly ten-fold higher than that of iron or copper. Next, they showed that the oocyte accumulates zinc by over 50% during the 12-16 hours required for maturation of the oocyte to its terminal stage of development before fertilization (MII stage). Second, they showed that this massive increase in the zinc quota during meiotic maturation is necessary to drive meiosis I exit and to establish MII arrest in the mouse egg. Drs. Woodruff and O’Halloran demonstrated this in a number of ways, including induction of zinc insufficiency in maturing oocytes via small molecule chelators. This treatment prevents maturation and results in premature meiotic arrest at telophase I. They next showed the zinc transporters Zip6 and Zip10 were key in the zinc uptake phase and that transcriptional control of the normal zinc homeostasis pathways by the zinc-specific metalloregulatory protein MTF-1 is downregulated as the oocyte matures. These mechanistic studies explain how the influx of over 20 billion zinc ions is accomplished in a short period of time. Third, using single-cell x-ray fluorescence, Drs. Woodruff and O’Halloran discovered the phenomenon of the "zinc spark," an event during which 10 billion zinc ions are lost from the egg. In experiments described in 2015 in Nature Chemistry,[16] Drs. Woodruff and O’Halloran developed a series of novel chemical probes, and performed four-dimensional confocal fluorescence microscopy, Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope, and synchrotron-based x-ray bionanoprobe measurements to create quantitative maps of zinc distribution at the subcellular level. They revealed that the zinc sparks arise from vesicular fusion of thousands of compartments, and captured a zinc spark as it occurred at the precise moment that the sperm enters the egg. This unprecedented real-time imaging demonstrated that the zinc spark occurs within seconds of sperm entry, and thus represents one of the earliest markers of embryo quality.[17] These discoveries led to a testable new concept in biology, namely the idea that zinc fluxes in the egg function as a master switch in early mammalian development. The discovery of the zinc spark was named as one of Discover magazine's top 100 stories of 2016.[18]

Oncofertility research[edit]

Woodruff (right) with President Barack Obama, representing an organizational recipient of the 2010 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring[19]

At the time of Dr. Woodruff's graduate research, the inability to mature the ovarian follicle in vitro was a major gap in reproductive science. When she returned to Northwestern as a faculty member, Dr. Woodruff led a highly collaborative effort that resulted in the development of a hydrogel that acts as a 3-dimensional support system to provide critical bio-integrity for the ovarian follicle and its enclosed maturing oocyte. Live births in mice resulted from these studies. This work was named as he most important breakthrough of the decade 1998-2008 by Nature Medicine.

Dr. Woodruff’s interdisciplinary research efforts in three-dimensional ovarian follicle culture led her to think about its potential applications—specifically, how it could be used to help young women with fertility-threatening conditions or undergoing gonadotoxic treatments.[20][21][22] Advances in cancer treatment have significantly increased the rate of survival among pediatric cancer patients, which has brought issues of survivorship—including the ability to have a family—to the forefront. In the early 2000s, options for preserving fertility for young women diagnosed with cancer were limited to emergency IVF, which requires a delay in cancer treatment for hormone stimulation and egg retrieval. Yet many young cancer patients may not have a partner or may have moral objections that preclude embryo creation, and very young patients are unable to undergo hormone stimulation to produce eggs for freezing. Other women may have aggressive disease that requires immediate treatment or have hormone-responsive cancers and thus cannot undergo ovarian stimulation. Around 2005, other groups were reporting the retrieval and heterotopic transplantation of ovarian tissue as treatment for infertility—Dr. Woodruff asked whether ovarian follicle or tissue culture methods being developed in her lab might fill an unmet need in fertility preservation for young women with cancer. She also recognized a significant gap in knowledge and communication between patients and providers with regard to fertility preservation for cancer patients.

In 2006, Woodruff introduced the term oncofertility to describe the application of this work to meeting the fertility needs of young cancer patients. She has "been at the center of the movement ever since."[23] With a $21.5-million National Institutes of Health Interdisciplinary Roadmap Grant awarded in 2007, she launched the Oncofertility Consortium, an interdisciplinary team of oncologists, fertility specialists, social scientists, educators, and policy makers dedicated to the clinical care of women at risk of losing their fertility because of cancer treatment.[24][25] Since the formation of the Consortium, Dr. Woodruff and her colleagues have literally written the book on oncofertility, with six volumes describing the progress in basic science research, medical practice considerations, perspectives from the humanities and the law, and communication methods that impact the care of cancer patients facing iatrogenic infertility.[1]  True to her collaborative style, Dr. Woodruff extended her work beyond the disciplinary borders of reproductive biology to work with a range of experts to effectively translate bench research to bedside patient care. As part of the Oncofertility Consortium, Dr. Woodruff helped form the National Physicians Cooperative (NPC) to facilitate sharing of fertility preservation protocols and techniques between reproductive endocrinology practices and ensure that clinicians and patients receive the most accurate and up-to-date information about available treatment options, even as the technologies continue to evolve. She also established a patient navigation system to help connect oncologists to fertility specialists, providing a more efficient system for referring cancer patients who are interested in fertility preservation. She worked with humanities scholars to better understand patient and provider perspectives and challenges, to identify gaps in knowledge about the available fertility preservation options for cancer patients, and to develop new tools to improve communication between providers and patients. Dr. Woodruff examined the ethical considerations of fertility management paradigms for young cancer patients with Professor Laurie Zoloth,[26] as well as legal perspectives of oncofertility with Professor Dorothy Roberts.[27] Her collaboration with education scientist Kemi Jona led to the creation of the patient-directed website myoncofertility.org and educational materials for both providers and patients at savemyfertility.org. The global, transdisciplinary Oncofertility Consortium has been upheld as an example of successful inter-institutional team science in practice, and has been used as a test case for research and education in the science of team science field.[28] Dr. Woodruff designed the Oncofertility Consortium logo, a trademarked advocacy ribbon that reflects the growing concern for the reproductive future of cancer patients. The intertwining spring green and hearty purple represents blossoming hope and uncompromised dedication to improving fertility preservation options for cancer patients. The lower tip of the ribbon emerges showing an emergence of eggs or embryos, as well as sperm, welcoming the translation of current research to the improvement of fertility options for all cancer patients. The ribbon has a slightly bowed shape, providing subliminal imagery of a fertile state. Oncofertility is now a recognized medical discipline around the globe.

A hallmark of the research done by Dr. Woodruff is the application of bioengineering to reproductive health. The development and application of hydrogels to support encapsulated in vitro follicle growth (eIVFG) continues to be a major focus of her lab. More recently, she has used eIVFG to develop and test a microfluidic system that supports 28-day reproductive cycles in an ex vivo setting -- an "ovarian cycle in a dish."[29] On March 28, 2017, her team announced the creation of Evatar, a miniaturized female reproductive tract composed of ovarian follicles or intact ovaries (mouse) interconnected with human explants from fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix with liver organoids to provide a metabolic management tissue.[30][31][32][33] Dr. Woodruff and team also recently created decellularized and 3D-printed ovarian bioprosthetics that are the first-generation of replacement organs for women who have lost gonadal function.[34] The development of an ovarian bioprosthetic was named as one of Discover magazine's 100 most important discoveries of 2018,[35] and was recognized as a top five medical breakthrough by the Chinese Academy of Science. Her work to bridge the basic sciences and medicine was recognized with a Halo Award in 2018.[36]

Educational work[edit]

Dr. Woodruff was named director of the newly formed Institute for Women’s Health Research at Northwestern University. In this role, she spearheaded several initiatives to address challenges in women’s health research—including the lack of sex equity in biomedical research, the attrition of women from STEM fields, and the need for greater knowledge of basic science concepts among patients—all of which impact women’s health and well-being.[37]  A large part of Dr. Woodruff’s work within the Institute has been to raise awareness of the need for sex-based clinical research in order to improve healthcare for women. Treatment guidelines are largely based on evidence from trials conducted in large populations of male patients, and drug development programs often exclude female participants from clinical trials, even if a treatment will be offered to both men and women. Investigators may not routinely examine clinical outcomes by sex, age, or stage of menstrual cycle due to the cost of duplicating the study in both sexes, the "complication" introduced by the menstrual cycle, or the presumption that males are a reasonable model for females. Dr. Woodruff’s passion for improving women’s health research led to a number of high-profile editorials on the need for sex-based equity science and medicine[38][39][40] and the need to relieve restrictions on work with human eggs.[41] Her efforts to highlight the issue of sex-based clinical research received greater exposure when Leslie Stahl recently interviewed her on a 60 Minutes report.[42] Most importantly, on January 25, 2016, NIH announced their new sex inclusion policy that mandates males and females be considered as part of basic science research. This is a fundamental change that was led, in part, by the efforts of Dr. Woodruff to provide evidence that the absence of sex as a biological variable is harmful to science and ultimately to men and women.

Dr. Woodruff has also worked tirelessly to find novel ways to reduce attrition of women from the STEM fields. She created the Women’s Health Science Program (WHSP) for High School Girls & Beyond to provide science education programs to 9th -12th grade female students in Chicago Public Schools.[43] WHSP intervenes earlier in the educational pipeline, targeting young women who are considering careers in science and medicine and preparing them with valuable knowledge and skills to successfully become the next generation of women science leaders. WHSP also provides personal and social support during a time when girls make important decisions about their future educational and career trajectories. WHSP runs four academies: the Oncofertility Saturday Academy (OSA), Cardiology Summer Academy (CSA), Infectious Disease Summer Academy (IDSA), and Physical Science Weekend Academy (PSWA). Underscoring her understanding of the importance of building connections, Dr. Woodruff designed the program such that the students build relationships amongst each other that persist beyond their time in the program, which they call the science sisterhood, as well as with the scientists, clinicians, and other professionals associated with WHSP. In addition, parents are expected to play an active role in WHSP to support their daughters’ interests and pursuits in science. In this way, parents, as members of the general public, are educated along with their daughters about the scientific process and how it translates to human health. WHSP has been disseminated nationally, and four additional universities now offer the Oncofertility Saturday Academy curriculum.[44]  For this work, Dr. Woodruff was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in an Oval Office ceremony in 2011.[45]

To complement her work above Woodruff created a suite of educational tools in the reproductive sciences. These include a series of videos for 8- to 12-year-olds covering topics such as puberty, menstruation, and anatomy; a MOOC for college students on reproductive health; and the Repropedia, a lexicon of reproductive science terms created and updated by science and clinician contributors, for linkages to websites and social media to ensure accurate understanding on important terminology.[46][47] All of this is packaged into a website called the Reprotopia. The MOOC includes a series of videos that describe the interaction between behavior and the human reproductive system, as well as biological function. Some of the subjects covered in the course include how a woman's menstrual cycle can be affected by a relocation and how a man can experience erectile dysfunction after consuming a few alcoholic beverages.[48]

Woodruff has trained masters and doctoral students as well as postdoctoral fellows who have gone on to faculty positions as well as other science-related fields. Her work as a mentor was recognized by the Medical Faculty Council, which named her Mentor of the Year in 2009.[49]

In 2015, Dr. Woodruff was named the Director of the Center for Reproductive Science at Northwestern University following Dr. Kelly Mayo and her close mentor, Founder of the Center, Dr. Neena B. Schwartz. Dr. Woodruff was inspired to bring her passion for post-graduate education to the Center, and in 2016, she founded the Masters of Science in Reproductive Science and Medicine program within the Center. The themes of the Center are to be visible, vibrant and viable to ensure reproductive science research and education are at the forefront of advanced educational opportunities and can catalyze research advances.

Awards and Recognition[edit]

Widely recognized for her work, Dr. Woodruff holds 10 U.S. Patents and was presented the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring by Barack Obama in an Oval Office ceremony in 2011[45] and the Beacon Award from Frontiers in Reproduction in 2013.[50] She received the Distinguished Alumnae Award in 2008[51] and Alumni Association Merit Award in 2012[52] from Northwestern University. She was invited as commencement speaker and has an honorary degree (D.Sc.) from Bates College, Lewiston, Maine in 2010.[53] She delivered the commencement remarks and received an honorary doctorate (D.Sc.) from the University of Birmingham, Birminghman, UK, in 2016.[54] Her work on behalf of women in science has been recognized by The Distinguished Woman in Medicine and Science Award (2009),[55] the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science Vision and Impact Award (2012), the American Women in Science (AWIS) Innovator Award (2008),[56] the American Medical Women Association (AMWA) Gender Equity Award (2009), and the “Speaking of Womens’ Health” Distinguished Service Award (2007). In 2017, she received a Guggenheim Award,[57] the 25th anniversary Academy of Women’s Health Research Award,[58] and was elected to the National Academy of Inventors.[59] She was elected as a fellow to the National Academy of Medicine in 2018.[60]

In 2013, Woodruff was nominated for Time magazine’s list of the “Most Influential People in the World."[61] In an article published by The Verge on August 8, 2018, six hours after this Wikipedia article was created, Dr. Woodruff is referenced as an example of one of many "prominent scientists who aren’t featured on Wikipedia," and whose work was identified by an AI-programmed tool designed to crawl scientific studies and lay media sources to draft articles about the most frequently mentioned individuals.[62]


Dr. Woodruff is civically active and is an elected member of The Economic Club of Chicago and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.  She served on the school board of the Chicago-based Young Women’s Leadership Charter School, served as president of the Endocrine Society and championed the new NIH policy that mandates the inclusion of females in fundamental research. In September 2017, Woodruff was selected as Editor-in Chief of Endocrinology, assuming the role after Andrea Gore's term elapsed.[63] 


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  6. ^ "Richard E. Weitzman Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award | Endocrine Society". www.endocrine.org. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  7. ^ Woodruff, T.; Krummen, L.; Baly, D.; Garg, S.; Allison, D.; Sadick, M.; Wong, W.; Mather, J.; Soules, M. (1993-11-01). "Quantitative two-site enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays for inhibin A, activin A and activin B". Human Reproduction. 8 (suppl 2): 133–137. doi:10.1093/humrep/8.suppl_2.133. ISSN 0268-1161.
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  11. ^ Thompson, Thomas B.; Woodruff, Teresa K.; Jardetzky, Theodore S. (2003-04-01). "Structures of an ActRIIB:activin A complex reveal a novel binding mode for TGF‐β ligand:receptor interactions". The EMBO Journal. 22 (7): 1555–1566. doi:10.1093/emboj/cdg156. ISSN 0261-4189. PMC 152900. PMID 12660162.
  12. ^ Thompson, Thomas B.; Lerch, Thomas F.; Cook, Robert W.; Woodruff, Teresa K.; Jardetzky, Theodore S. (2005). "The Structure of the Follistatin:Activin Complex Reveals Antagonism of Both Type I and Type II Receptor Binding". Developmental Cell. 9 (4): 535–543. doi:10.1016/j.devcel.2005.09.008. ISSN 1534-5807. PMID 16198295.
  13. ^ Zhu, Jie; Mishra, Rama K.; Schiltz, Gary E.; Makanji, Yogeshwar; Scheidt, Karl A.; Mazar, Andrew P.; Woodruff, Teresa K. (2015-07-07). "Virtual High-Throughput Screening To Identify Novel Activin Antagonists". Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. 58 (14): 5637–5648. doi:10.1021/acs.jmedchem.5b00753. ISSN 0022-2623. PMC 4635973. PMID 26098096.
  14. ^ Kim, Alison M; Vogt, Stefan; O'Halloran, Thomas V; Woodruff, Teresa K (2010-08-08). "Zinc availability regulates exit from meiosis in maturing mammalian oocytes". Nature Chemical Biology. 6 (9): 674–681. doi:10.1038/nchembio.419. ISSN 1552-4450. PMC 2924620. PMID 20693991.
  15. ^ Kim, Alison M.; Bernhardt, Miranda L.; Kong, Betty Y.; Ahn, Richard W.; Vogt, Stefan; Woodruff, Teresa K.; O’Halloran, Thomas V. (2011-07-15). "Zinc Sparks Are Triggered by Fertilization and Facilitate Cell Cycle Resumption in Mammalian Eggs". ACS Chemical Biology. 6 (7): 716–723. doi:10.1021/cb200084y. ISSN 1554-8929. PMC 3171139. PMID 21526836.
  16. ^ Que, Emily L.; Bleher, Reiner; Duncan, Francesca E.; Kong, Betty Y.; Gleber, Sophie C.; Vogt, Stefan; Chen, Si; Garwin, Seth A.; Bayer, Amanda R. (2014-12-15). "Quantitative mapping of zinc fluxes in the mammalian egg reveals the origin of fertilization-induced zinc sparks". Nature Chemistry. 7 (2): 130–139. doi:10.1038/nchem.2133. ISSN 1755-4330. PMC 4315321. PMID 25615666.
  17. ^ Zhang, Nan; Duncan, Francesca E.; Que, Emily L.; O’Halloran, Thomas V.; Woodruff, Teresa K. (2016-03-18). "The fertilization-induced zinc spark is a novel biomarker of mouse embryo quality and early development". Scientific Reports. 6 (1): 22772. doi:10.1038/srep22772. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 4796984. PMID 26987302.
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  21. ^ Woodruff, Teresa K. (2010-05-25). "The Oncofertility Consortium—addressing fertility in young people with cancer". Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology. 7 (8): 466–475. doi:10.1038/nrclinonc.2010.81. ISSN 1759-4774. PMC 3124936. PMID 20498666.
  22. ^ De Vos, Michel; Smitz, Johan; Woodruff, Teresa K (2014-10). "Fertility preservation in women with cancer". The Lancet. 384 (9950): 1302–1310. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(14)60834-5. ISSN 0140-6736. PMC 4270060. PMID 25283571. Check date values in: |date= (help)
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  34. ^ Laronda, Monica M.; Rutz, Alexandra L.; Xiao, Shuo; Whelan, Kelly A.; Duncan, Francesca E.; Roth, Eric W.; Woodruff, Teresa K.; Shah, Ramille N. (2017-05-16). "A bioprosthetic ovary created using 3D printed microporous scaffolds restores ovarian function in sterilized mice". Nature Communications. 8: 15261. doi:10.1038/ncomms15261. ISSN 2041-1723. PMC 5440811. PMID 28509899.
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  37. ^ Castle, M.; Kick, L.; Haseley, H.; Wallach, H.; Woodruff, T. K. (2016-06-22). "Introduction to Reproduction: Online Education for the Millennial Learner". Biology of Reproduction. 95 (1): 29. doi:10.1095/biolreprod.116.140004. ISSN 0006-3363. PMC 5029437. PMID 27335073.
  38. ^ Kim, Alison M.; Tingen, Candace M.; Woodruff, Teresa K. (2010). "Sex bias in trials and treatment must end". Nature. 465 (7299): 688–689. doi:10.1038/465688a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 20535184.
  39. ^ Woodruff, Teresa K. (2014-04-08). "Sex, equity, and science". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 111 (14): 5063–5064. doi:10.1073/pnas.1404203111. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 3986183. PMID 24715722.
  40. ^ Woodruff, Teresa K.; Kibbe, Melina R.; Paller, Amy S.; Turek, Fred W.; Woolley, Catherine S. (2014). "Commentary: "Leaning in" to Support Sex Differences in Basic Science and Clinical Research". Endocrinology. 155 (4): 1181–1183. doi:10.1210/en.2014-1068. ISSN 0013-7227. PMID 24506076.
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