Mary B. Zelinski

The follicle is the functional unit of the ovary that consists of the centrally located oocyte (egg) surrounded by somatic cells (granulosa cells and theca cells) whose purpose is to nourish the oocyte and produce hormones such as estradiol (needed for female characteristics as well as bone, brain and cardiac health) and progesterone (essential for establishing pregnancy). Follicles begin their journey of development as primordial follicles that either eventually grow and mature to become the single dominant follicle that ovulates an oocyte during the menstrual cycle making it available for fertilization, or they degenerate and die at many stages of their developmental continuum. Nonhuman primates, such as the female rhesus and cynomolgus monkey, have ovarian and menstrual cycles similar to women, thus they are the ideal model in which to study issues associated with women's reproductive health. Understanding how oocytes and follicles grow and function is integral to developing clinical therapies to alleviate infertility, a major side effect of cancer treatments, or to control fertility with new female contraceptives. Dr. Zelinski has over 25 years of experience using nonhuman primate models of reproductive physiology that includes both infertility and contraceptive research.  She has developed numerous outreach activities to engage students of all ages in learning about reproduction and the importance of animals in biomedical research.


Fertility Preservation

The American Cancer Society estimated that 1 in 52 human females between birth and age 39 – that is, the pre-reproductive and reproductive years – are diagnosed with cancer per year. Currently, 1 in 250 people in the U.S. will be survivors of childhood cancer. Many patients will be treated with chemo- and/or radiation therapy. Premature ovarian failure and infertility are well-known side-effects of many cancer treatments. The ultimate goal of our work is to develop safe and effective methods for protecting female ovaries that contain follicles and their enclosed oocytes (eggs) from side-effect damage caused by anti-cancer therapies. With collaborators in Boston, we tested agents administered directly to the ovary to see if they can protect follicles and oocytes from X-irradiation, and also whether normal offspring can be born after ovarian protection prior to ovarian X-irradiation in the mothers.  With collaborators in the Oncofertility Consortium (, we are growing monkey follicles in a bioengineered alginate matrix that maintains the 3-dimensional architecture of the follicle, evaluating autotransplantation of ovarian cortex to readily accessible sites in primates, and optimizing cryopreservation (nitrification) methods for preserving ovarian tissue for subsequent transplantation or  3-dimensional follicle culture. Our ultimate goal is to demonstrate that each method will yield oocytes that can fertilize and lead to live offspring, thus providing options for fertility preservation when cancer survivors decide to become parents.


We developed a low dose treatment of a specific progesterone receptor modulator in female rhesus monkeys that permits normal ovarian and menstrual cycles, prevents pregnancy, and is reversible. These studies provided the basis for use of this female contraceptive in China. A Contraceptive Development Research Center was established in the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences to further develop novel female contraceptives that act at specific sites in the ovary or reproductive tract. In the Nonhuman Primate Contraceptive Core, we conduct contraceptive and reversibility trials of the drugs developed for female contraception in each project in the Contraceptive Center. We are testing agents that 1) block oocyte meiosis thereby preventing fertilization; 2) prevent follicle rupture/ovulation such that there is no release of an oocyte for fertilization, and 3) inhibit oocyte/embryo transport or fertilization within the oviduct as well as sperm transport via the cervix, thereby providing multiple novel approaches to female contraception.  We also collaborate with investigators developing novel male contraceptives by providing expertise in the nonhuman primate model for assessing the efficacy of these agents to block sperm production or competence for fertilization in a reversible manner.

Science Education Outreach

We recently launched the "Oncofertility Curriculum" website. This curriculum was developed to attract, prepare and retain high school students in science majors and careers as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Interdisciplinary Research Consortium grant which funded the Oncofertility National Science Education Network (ONSEN) and more recently, as part of the National Institutes of Health(NIH) National Centers for Translational Research in Reproduction and Infertility (NCTRI). The Oncofertility Curriculum includes teacher background, slide shows and lab activities designed to enhance high school and junior college biology courses. The curriculum is designed around the theme of oncofertility that provides opportunities to teach not only topics of general biology (meiosis, mitosis, cancer, male and female reproductive physiology), but to tie them to "real-life" clinical applications and current research on infertility, fertility preservation, cryobiology, ethics of reproductive technologies and more. 



Mary Zelinski is a Staff Scientist in the Division of Reproductive & Developmental Sciences, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Oregon Health & Science University. She received her B.S. degree in Dairy Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1976, and both her M.S. in 1979 and a Ph.D. in 1986 in Animal Science-Reproductive Physiology from Oregon State University. Dr. Zelinksi has also conducted reproductive research in the Department of Physiology at the University of California at Davis and then came to ONPRC in 1987 as a Lalor Foundation post-doctoral fellow.


Key Publications

Rodrigues JK, Navarro PA, Zelinski MB, Stouffer RL, Xu J. 2015. Direct actions of androgens on the survival, growth and secretion of steroids and anti-Müllerian hormone by individual macaque follicles during three-dimensional culture. Hum Reprod. 30:664-674. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deu335. PMC4325670.

Xu J, Xu M, Bernuci MP, Fisher TE, Shea LD, Woodruff TK, Zelinski MB, Stouffer RL. 2013. Primate follicular development and oocyte maturation in vitro. Adv Exp Med Biol. 761:43-67. PMC4007769.

Ting AY, Yeoman RR, Campos JR, Lawson MS, Mullen SF, Fahy GM, Zelinski MB. 2013.Morphological and functional preservation of pre-antral follicles after vitrification of macaque ovarian tissue in a closed system. Hum Reprod. 28:1267-1279. PMC3627338.

See a full listing of Dr. Zelinski's and Zelinski-Wooten's publications