Darren Chow, a member of the Reproductive Success team at the University of Adelaide is a new addition to the highly collaborative research environment that is the CNBP. A reproductive biologist, Darren’s primary focus is in the IVF research field. He seeks to explore the capacity for light – more specifically, light that originates within human cells, or auto-fluorescence – to inform IVF clinical practice.
Specifically, Darren has developed a diagnostic technique that uses auto-fluorescence to identify chromosomal errors in embryos. This approach is non-invasive and more accurate than the current gold standard technology, which involves removing cells from the embryo for genetic testing.
In an IVF setting, this allows for more accurate assessment of individual embryos to help identify which ones have the best chances of achieving a clinical pregnancy.
Suliman (Suli) Yagoub is a CNBP PhD candidate working in the Reproductive Success team under Prof Jeremy Thompson and Dr Kylie Dunning. Suli’s research project looks at developing an automated IVF platform that will allow for the standardisation of IVF procedures.
This multidisciplinary project combines the fields of developmental biology with engineering, physics and chemistry. Suli’s approach seeks to reduce the variability in IVF treatment by removing variability in live birth rates as a result of human handling of embryos during the process. A further aim is to grant individuals and couples who live anywhere in the world access to IVF treatment. Suli is collaborating with Prof Brant Gibson from RMIT University, Prof David Gardner from University of Melbourne and other collaborators within the CNBP umbrella.
Tiffany Tan is a PhD student working in the Reproductive Success team within the Robinson Research Institute (RRI) and CNBP. Her research focus is using light-based technologies to better understand the biology that determines successful development of the oocyte (egg) and early embryo.
The main technology she uses is hyperspectral imaging in collaboration with Prof Ewa Goldys and her team at UNSW. Hyperspectral imaging is a non-invasive approach to assess the metabolic activity (process of producing energy) of embryos. Tiffany has showed that this technique can be used to differentiate between embryos with different levels of chromosomal abnormalities which allows for better assessment of individual embryo.
A long term goal of her research is to improve the IVF success rate in the human IVF clinic by helping to predict which embryo has a better opportunity to result in a live birth following transfer back to the patient.
Dr Hanna McLennan
Completed PhD student Hanna McLennan entered the CNBP Adelaide node as a reproductive biologist with a fascination for the potential of microscope imaging to further understand the behaviour of reproductive cell types. The Centre provided an opportunity for co-supervision of her project – investigating new methods of detecting signals produced when the sperm and egg come together at the moment of fertilisation – across the disciplines of chemistry and biology.
The first part of her project investigated novel fluorescent chemical sensors developed by chemists within the CNBP to assess the movement of calcium and zinc while fertilisation occurred, using confocal microscopy. However, these cells were still exposed to the toxicity of the sensor and any embryos generated would not have been able to produce viable offspring.
To overcome this challenge, Hanna collaborated with University of Adelaide physicists Dr Erik Schartner and Dr Roman Kostecki on containing the sensors within functionalised optical fibre tips. This allowed measurements to be taken immediately next to the egg as it matured and was fertilised, without the cells being exposed to the chemical sensor.
Hanna’s team was able to show that optical fibre technology is capable of detecting biologically significant signals produced by the egg in volumes as small as 5 microlitres. In future research, this technology can be tested with additional sensors imbedded in the fibre tip to detect many different signals that would enable quantitative monitoring of egg and embryo health so the healthiest embryo can be transferred back to the patient.
PhD candidate Megan Lim is part of the CNBP Reproductive Success team headed by Dr Kylie Dunning. The primary focus of her research is investigating the role of red blood cell protein, or haemoglobin, during egg (oocyte) development in mammals. Haemoglobin is known to play vital roles in gas transport and as an antioxidant, both important components to ensure healthy development of the oocyte, and consequently, successful fertilisation. While haemoglobin is surprisingly abundant in the oocyte, upon exposure to in vitro conditions, there is a drastic decrease of the protein.
As the in vitro environment is understood to be suboptimal for healthy oocyte development, there is an exciting possibility of adding haemoglobin to target important regulatory pathways. These are namely oxygen regulation and sequestering reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide. This is particularly relevant to the clinical practice of in vitro oocyte maturation which is used in patients with health conditions preventing hormonal stimulation prior to routine in vitro fertilisation procedures.
Megan’s research utilised fluorescent probes and confocal imaging, combined with conventional measures of gene expression to evaluate the potential of haemoglobin function in the oocyte. She has identified its ability to act as an antioxidant and in oxygen regulation, and her work informs future experiments to extend these observations, thereby contributing to far-reaching improvements to in vitro oocyte viability and reproductive success.