Duncan Lab

Francesca E. Duncan, PhD

Associate Professor in Residence

Understanding the interplay between the aging ovarian microenvironment and egg quantity and quality.

Lab focus

The Duncan Lab uses mammalian model systems to investigate the overarching hypothesis that deterioration of oocyte-intrinsic cellular pathways together with alterations in the ovarian environment underlie the age-associated decline in female gamete quantity and quality. Our research will improve the fertile-span and health-span across generations through discovery of novel cellular pathways for therapeutic interventions.

Why it matters

The female reproductive system is the first to age in the human body and will affect every single woman. Reproductive aging is characterized by a noticeable decline in egg quantity and quality beginning in women when they reach their mid-thirties and continuing until menopause. Female reproductive aging has significant health consequences as it results in endocrine function loss and is a leading cause of infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects. Reproductive aging has a large societal impact as women globally are delaying childbearing and many women of advanced reproductive age rely on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) to conceive.

Female reproductive aging is a robust phenotype that will affect every single female irrespective of her race, ethnicity, or geography. Through strong partnerships between aging and reproductive researchers, we are will discover the underlying mechanisms and address the biological sequalae of this aging process.

Francesca E. Duncan, PhD

The Duncan lab is pleased to acknowledge the generous support of the following major funders:

Dr. Duncan has spent her research career focusing on female reproductive health. She graduated from Haverford College with a BS in Biology and Biochemistry (2000) and earned her doctorate in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Pennsylvania (2006) under the mentorship of Dr. Carmen Williams. She then did her first postdoctoral fellowship (2006-2009) at the University of Pennsylvania with Dr. Richard Schultz followed by a five year span (2009-2014) in Dr. Teresa Woodruff’s laboratory at Northwestern where she transitioned from a post-doctoral fellow to an Assistant Research Professor. She then established an independent research program as an Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology (2014-2016) before being recruited back to Northwestern in her current position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Executive Director of the Center for Reproductive Science. Research in the Duncan laboratory uses mammalian model systems (mouse, bovine, and human) to test the overarching hypothesis that deterioration of gamete-intrinsic cellular pathways together with changes in the ovarian microenvironment contribute to the reproductive age-associated decline in egg quantity and quality. The laboratory’s work is at the interface of reproductive aging and systemic aging; physiologic and iatrogenic reproductive aging; gamete, follicle, and ovarian biology; and reproductive science and medicine. Insights from this research will help design targeted interventions to ameliorate reproductive aging, laying the foundation to simultaneously improve women’s fertile-span and health-span across generations. Research in her lab is funded by NIH R01 and R21 awards. Dr. Duncan has >50 manuscripts in the peer-reviewed literature and has been featured in the press. Beyond the bench, Dr. Duncan enjoys teaching and is an active faculty member in the Frontiers in Reproduction program and Associate Director of the Northwestern Predoctoral Training Program in Reproductive Science, Medicine, and Technology. She is the recipient of several honors and awards, including a 2017 Fulbright fellowship and the 2019 Society for the Study of Reproduction Virendra B. Mahesh New Investigator award.

Duncan lab website

  • Giuliana Zaza  Research Associate

    Giuliana graduated in 2022 from The Ohio State University with a B.S in neuroscience with research distinction and a minor in global public health. During her time as an undergraduate Giuliana worked in a developmental neuropathology lab where she studied the development of breathing disorders originating in the central nervous system. She also completed an undergraduate thesis investigating the effects of TLR-ligands on various newborn behaviors. She will be assisting in reproductive aging research as part of the Duncan Lab and collaborating with other labs at the Buck as part of the Reproductive Biology Hub. Giuliana's future plans include attending graduate school to continue her education in reproductive biology.


Lauren Newman
Administrative Lab Coordinator
Phone: 415-209-2229
Selected Publications
  • Amargant F, Manuel SL, Tu Q, Parkes WS, Rivas F, Zhou LT, Rowley JE, Villanueva CE, Hornick JE, Shekhawat GS, Wei JJ, Pavone ME, Hall AR, Pritchard MT, Duncan FE  Ovarian stiffness increases with age in the mammalian ovary and depends on collagen and hyaluronan matrices. Aging Cell  2020 Nov;19(11):e13259. doi:10.1111/acel.13259
  • Mara JN, Zhou LT, Larmore M, Johnson B, Ayiku R, Amargant F, Pritchard MT, Duncan FE  Ovulation and ovarian wound healing are impaired with advanced reproductive age.  Aging (Albany NY)  2020 05 14;12(10):9686-9713. doi:10.18632/aging.10323
  • Dipali SS, Ferreira CR, Zhou LT, Pritchard MT, Duncan FE  Histologic analysis and lipid profiling reveal reproductive age-associated changes in peri-ovarian adipose tissue.  Reprod Biol Endocrinol  2019 Jun 12;17(1):46. doi:10.1186/s12958-019-0487-6
  • Kimler BF, Briley SM, Johnson BW, Armstrong AG, Jasti S, Duncan FE  Radiation-induced ovarian follicle loss occurs without overt stromal changes.  Reproduction  2018 06;155(6):553-562. doi:10.1530/REP-18-0089
  • Duncan FE, Gerton JL  Mammalian oogenesis and female reproductive aging.  Aging (Albany NY)  2018 Feb 05;10(2):162-163. doi:10.18632/aging.101381
  • Tao X, Landis JN, Krisher RL, Duncan FE, Silva E, Lonczak A, Scott RT, Zhan Y, Chu T, Scott RT, Treff NR  Mitochondrial DNA content is associated with ploidy status, maternal age, and oocyte maturation methods in mouse blastocysts.  J Assist Reprod Genet  2017 Dec;34(12):1587-1594. doi:10.1007/s10815-017-1070-8
  • Duncan FE, Jasti S, Paulson A, Kelsh JM, Fegley B, Gerton JL  Age-associated dysregulation of protein metabolism in the mammalian oocyte.  Aging Cell  2017 12;16(6):1381-1393. doi:10.1111/acel.12676
  • Goldman KN, Chenette D, Arju R, Duncan FE, Keefe DL, Grifo JA, Schneider RJ  mTORC1/2 inhibition preserves ovarian function and fertility during genotoxic chemotherapy.  Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A  2017 03 21;114(12):3186-3191. doi:10.1073/pnas.1617233114
  • Briley SM, Jasti S, McCracken JM, Hornick JE, Fegley B, Pritchard MT, Duncan FE  Reproductive age-associated fibrosis in the stroma of the mammalian ovary.  Reproduction  2016 09;152(3):245-260. doi:10.1530/REP-16-0129
  • Duncan FE, Kimler BF, Briley SM  Combating radiation therapy-induced damage to the ovarian environment.  Future Oncol  2016 Jul;12(14):1687-90. doi:10.2217/fon-2016-0121
  • Hornick JE, Duncan FE, Sun M, Kawamura R, Marko JF, Woodruff TK  Age-associated alterations in the micromechanical properties of chromosomes in the mammalian egg.  J Assist Reprod Genet  2015 May;32(5):765-9. doi:10.1007/s10815-015-0453-y
  • Duncan FE, Hornick JE, Lampson MA, Schultz RM, Shea LD, Woodruff TK  Chromosome cohesion decreases in human eggs with advanced maternal age.  Aging Cell  2012 Dec;11(6):1121-4. doi:10.1111/j.1474-9726.2012.00866.x
  • Hirshfeld-Cytron JE, Duncan FE, Xu M, Jozefik JK, Shea LD, Woodruff TK  Animal age, weight and estrus cycle stage impact the quality of in vitro grown follicles.  Hum Reprod  2011 Sep;26(9):2473-85. doi:10.1093/humrep/der183
  • Duncan FE, Chiang T, Schultz RM, Lampson MA  Evidence that a defective spindle assembly checkpoint is not the primary cause of maternal age-associated aneuploidy in mouse eggs.  Biol Reprod  2009 Oct;81(4):768-76. doi:10.1095/biolreprod.109.077909

Dr. Duncan’s Pubmed link

The Science of Aging

Don’t count on having kids if you freeze your eggs

Is Modern Life Affecting Fertility?

Why does female fertility fall with age?

Age-related infertility may be caused by scarred ovaries

View all

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