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Academia in Action: Optimizing care for men’s health

When Dr. Jim Hotaling says he has “done a bunch of different things to optimize care for men’s health and male fertility,” he really means it. As a urologist at University of Utah Health, he sees patients, performs surgeries, runs big data research groups and commercializes technologies based on that research.  From studying the genetics of male infertility to developing an FDA-approved, at-home urologic test, his work all comes back to that goal of optimizing care.

His research into genetics and male fertility led him on an interesting path as he sought out grants. Hotaling applied for around 10 different grants to support these efforts to understand how gene mutations affect both male infertility and overall health, but despite getting close a few times, the research never received funding. At the time, they were “working with a Utah population database and using more of a sort of demography, big data set analysis,” he said.

In order to get the funding he needed, it turned out Hotaling needed to pivot. He partnered with Aaron Quinlan, a U professor of human genetics and biomedical informatics, and Ki Aston, the IVF laboratory director at the U, to take a different approach and delve more deeply into the genetics. With Quinlan’s and Aston’s help and this new direction, the project was “funded the first time we submitted it,” he said.

Studying the genetics of infertility is challenging because there’s no infertility gene, and if there was, Hotaling said it would “take itself out of the gene pool.” The team is now looking at the genetic underpinnings and risk factors as well as environmental exposures to understand who is at risk of having genetic issues that could lead to infertility.

With this research, Hotaling hopes to help “infertile men have kids and help them have the healthiest kids they can.”

As a clinician with experience starting two successful companies based on his research, Hotaling has a unique perspective into what patients need and how he can help both as a doctor and as an entrepreneur. “I had to call a patient this morning and say, ‘You’re never going to have your own kids.’ And there’s nothing that makes you feel like a bigger failure that that,” he said. “What motivates a lot of this is that human moment.”

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