St Mary's Hospital and University of Manchester
This project is looking at how to extract human embryonic stem cells from embryos. This project involves taking cells from human embryos and growing the cells so that they can form an embryonic stem cell line (defined as 3 million cells or more). The researchers will be testing the stem cells to assess their suitability for use in treating disease.
They will also be studying what genes are expressed in cells lines, and some of the embryos or cells taken from embryos, to gain basic understanding of how cells and embryos develop. This work will ultimately benefit IVF treatments by increasing our understanding of human embryo development.
Hull IVF Unit
We know very little about the processes that form a human embryo and why some embryos turn out to be healthier than others. The purpose of this work is to carry out a detailed examination of the development of the early human embryo, particularly how it generates the energy it needs to grow. This knowledge will help optimise embryo culture and transfer procedures to enhance IVF success rates.
A second area of increasing importance is how the environment in which early development occurs can influence the long-term health of the babies born. For example, a woman’s body weight affects the quality of her eggs and embryos; a detailed understanding of which could increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
The aims of this research are:
- To devise a simple, reliable method for embryo selection;
- to discover whether the preconception environment, including maternal body weight can affect the health of eggs and early embryos.
This information will enable couples trying for a baby naturally or through IVF to be provided with sound preconception advice. The research uses highly sensitive laboratory tests, most of which are non-invasive, to study the biochemistry of individual human embryos, donated to research after treatment.
The data can then be related to the ability of the embryos to develop successfully in culture. Pilot work will be carried out in the laboratory on animal embryos to confirm the approaches are feasible before conducting this essential research on spare human embryos.
The data will provide reassurance that a non-invasive test to select single embryos for transfer is safe and effective such that clinical trials could safely be undertaken and to demonstrate the importance of the pre-conception environment in ensuring the health of embryos conceived via IVF, and the short and long-term health of the babies.
University of Birmingham
During fertilisation, the sperm penetrates the surrounding of the egg and fuses with the egg which leads to an embryo forming. If fertilisation fails an embryo does not form. This project examines both scenarios in detail. The results of the project could show how sperm and eggs may talk to each other and enable understanding of how these things go wrong and may cause infertility, but also to devise better future fertility treatments, alongside an understanding of their safety.
In this project imaging (microscopy) techniques will be used to examine in detail the events occurring as human sperm and eggs interact. Genetic technologies will also be used to assess whether any embryos formed are ‘normal’ or would have potential problems that may, for instance, cause miscarriage. This type of research may also generate new contraceptives.
Francis Crick Institute in collaboration with Newcastle University
The focus of this project is to find ways to prevent transmission of mitochondrial DNA disease to improve outcomes of assisted reproductive technology for the treatment of infertility.
The three main aims of this research are:
- Develop new clinical treatments to minimise transmission of mitochondrial DNA mutations (change in genes) from a mother to her child,
- Improve the outcome of infertility treatments by studying cellular and molecular events that occur before the embryo is implanted and
- Investigate how chromosomal abnormalities in eggs and embryos arise, to understand what makes eggs of older women more likely to have chromosomal abnormalities.
The Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge
This project involves studying precursors to egg and sperm cells called primordial germ cells. These cells are one of the earliest cells that are made during embryo development. Errors in the formation of primordial germ cells may contribute to human infertility and germ cell tumours. The aim of this project is to learn about how primordial germ cells are made, to elicit methods to generate them and possibly eggs or sperm from stem cells.
The Chromosome number in egg cells will be compared with the chromosome number of a cell in the day three embryo and then the chromosome number of a cell in the day three embryo will be compared with the chromosome number of cells in a blastocyst (an embryo that develops on day five or six).
The chromosome number of cells in three different areas of the blastocyst will be compared, to look at the consistency of chromosomes within the same embryo. This research will allow us to understand if removing cells from eggs or embryos or blastocysts is an accurate way of predicting the chromosome status of the embryo as a whole.
Guys Hospital, London
Stem cells are unique cell populations that can copy themselves exactly and turn into new cell types (such as muscle or brain cells). Stem cells can be obtained at the early stages of embryo development; these cells are called human embryonic stem cells (hESC).
They also could be used in research to develop drugs to treat serious diseases, or to repair organs following a stroke or heart attack. Although there is a lot of hype around stem cells their potential is not fully realised yet. The project involves measuring and observing the way stem cells copy each other so that researchers can define norms and standardise protocols that would assure quality and assurance in the use of stem cells. The hESCs are programmed to turn into a specific cell type, so the researchers will try to figure out how to know what kind of cell a hESC will turn into.
The purpose of this project is to discover more about the processes that occur during early embryo development and when an embryo implants. The researchers are examining the process of implantation to find out how the presence of an embryo is picked up by the mother. They will also investigate interactions between the embryo and a structure in the uterus called the endometrium where implantation takes place. This research will help clinics to select the best embryos for transfer to the womb and increase chances of successful implantation.
Many eggs and embryos have anomalies that render them incapable of developing, or less likely to produce a pregnancy, but some embryos can overcome problems and get back on the right track. Embryologists do not yet know in enough detail exactly what problems arise, how eggs and embryos respond to problems or how embryos grow and implant into the uterus. Consequently, clinical grading of embryos and estimates of pregnancy chances have poor predictive value.
Our work focuses on the following:
1 - The reasons why egg quality declines as women get older
We are studying immature and mature eggs from women of different ages to look at the molecular machines that hold chromosomes (genetic material) together. This is particularly critical in the egg just before and during fertilisation as well as when the first cells of the early embryo form. We have found that the structure of the molecular machines is looser in older women, which may allow chromosomes to move in ways that can cause abnormalities in the embryo. Using techniques that we developed in other cell types, we are now using live cell imaging in eggs to observe these machines and chromosome movements directly. This will help to explain the causes of the high rates of abnormality and miscarriage in pregnancies in older women.
2 - Communication between the embryo and the endometrium at implantation
We are studying the signals that embryos produce and their influence upon endometrial cells with a view to understanding and diagnosing embryo quality based upon the profile of signals and responses. We hope that this may lead to new methods to increase the chances of implantation.
We welcome collaborations from clinics who may be able to provide human cryopreserved oocytes and cleavage stage embryos for research use.