Photograph of Dr. Conover and four colleagues standing in a laboratory setting Finding solutions for age-related diseases

Dr. Conover's work helps inform and suggest solutions for age-related diseases in the clinic and could lead to new noninvasive tests for patients at risk of heart attack.


As principal investigator in the Insulin-Like Growth Factors Laboratory, Cheryl A. Conover, Ph.D., researches important cell and tissue growth and survival factors that affect essentially every system and function in the body.

Dr. Conover's research team is expanding knowledge about insulin-like growth factors (IGFs), the receptors that mediate their effects, the IGF binding proteins and proteases that impact IGF action, and the complex interactions among all these components. Information being gained from our work is helping researchers understand the role that the IGF system plays in normal physiology and disease processes.

IGFs are peptide growth factors structurally related to insulin that are important regulators of growth and differentiation in tissues and cell systems. The actions of IGFs are determined by a family of IGF binding proteins.

Our lab continues to build on our initial discovery of a novel enzyme secreted by human skin fibroblasts called PAPP-A. Later, PAPP-A was identified in a variety of normal cells and cancer cells. Importantly, we found that PAPP-A enhances IGF activity by degrading inhibitory IGF binding proteins.

Our ongoing studies use methodologies of cell biology, protein biochemistry, immunohistochemistry, molecular biology and microsurgical techniques with genetically engineered mouse models.

We are now finding that PAPP-A plays a critical role in amplifying local IGF action during fetal development, vascular injury, bone formation and aging. We have generated a line of mice that have the gene for PAPP-A knocked out, which has been and continues to be a valuable model for investigating the physiology and pathophysiology of PAPP-A. In our studies, the knockout mouse model mice lived 30% to 40% longer than normal mice and were resistant to the development or progression of atherosclerosis, diabetic nephropathy, visceral obesity, pulmonary fibrosis, and immune system decline.

Our work may help inform and suggest therapeutic solutions for age-related diseases in the clinic and may be a therapeutic target for some cancers.

About Dr. Conover

Dr. Conover has spent her research career investigating the insulin-like growth factor system. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association and the Ellison Medical Foundation for Aging Research, among other organizations. In addition to her work in the lab, Dr. Conover is the George M. and Edna B. Endicott Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science in Rochester, Minnesota.