Infertility and Reproduction Research Program

 

Overview

Infertility is a major global issue that's driving a rapid increase in the demand for assisted conception services.

Our program aims to work out how and why particular reproductive cells (gametes) are susceptible. We'll then use the insights to deliver medical devices and pharmaceuticals with help from reproductive health clinicians, the biotechnology industry and relationships we've established with engineering, chemistry and pharmaceutical science.

Infertility and Reproductive Health 

Global fertility rates have fallen below replacement levels in all but a few countries. This is driving an unprecedented uptake of assisted reproductive technologies.

Assisted reproductive technologies are currently responsible for 5% of new births with an estimated one in every six couples using these technologies to start a family. 

However, less than 20% of assisted reproductive technology (ART) cycles result in a live birth. It's a rate that hasn't changed in a decade. ART also carries health risks for the resulting children.

The major contributors to infertility

Genetic, environmental, lifestyle and age-related factors seriously compromise the generation and quality of the sperm and eggs along with the health and wellbeing of the offspring.  

Our program seeks to resolve the precise physical and chemical nature of agents that impair human fertility and offspring health. We will look to develop diagnostic and therapeutic measures to improve the safety and efficacy of ART with a vision to mitigate the need for these interventions altogether.

In summary, we will:

  1. Improve the safety and efficacy of assisted reproductive technologies
  2. Develop novel diagnostic technologies for the selection, preservation and assessment of high-quality gametes and embryos  
  3. Resolve the environmental factors that impair human fertility, and
  4. Develop strategies for their remediation.

Healthy ageing

By 2050 it's estimated that the world’s population of people over 60 years of age will reach 22%. This equates to approximately 2.1 billion people. 

Healthy ageing has become a national priority and new policies have been developed to tackle the socio-economic and medical challenges of an ageing population.

Male ageing is linked with endocrine changes that are linked to diminished reproductive function, decreased muscle mass, bone fragility, age-dependent endocrine cancers and an increase in de novo mutation rates in the offspring.

A major concern from the female perspective is the impact of maternal age and environmental stress on both fertility and the genetic normality of their children.

With no treatment currently available, our program will pioneer a new understanding of androgen regulation, helping to inform the development of novel, safe gene therapies (viral vector and nanotools) as an alternative to androgen replacement therapy - all working to promote lifelong male health.

Innovations & Discovery

Our current projects

  • Innovations to improve the safety and efficacy of assisted reproductive technologies 
  • Novel diagnostic technologies to accurately and rapidly identify male infertility and defective sperm function
  • Resolving the environmental factors that impair human fertility and developing remediation strategies
  • Exploring the impact of age on female reproduction, and
  • Improving our understanding of androgen production to develop new interventions that support male fertility, lifelong health, and wellbeing.

Research undertaken by our internationally recognised team of researchers, industry, clinical partners, and community stakeholders span the translation spectrum. Through our discovery science arm, we resolve the precise physical and chemical nature of the agents that impair human infertility and offspring health.

The core focus of our research: Identification of diagnostic biomarkers of male fertility

Here we apply advanced technology platforms to identify diagnostic and prognostic factors that impact reproductive health. This research has enabled the public release of valuable database resources and the identification of a panel of robust diagnostic biomarkers capable of discriminating high-quality gametes. Through our discovery science, we have made influential advances in reproductive health.

Our collaborations with industry and clinical partners have allowed us to develop a translational pipeline so we can drive translational impact through the design and development of: 

Medical devices

A key translational focus for our team has been the development of medical devices. The most advanced of these devices is an innovative sperm selection system (Felix) that recently received an Australian Good Design Award (2020) for engineering excellence. This automated system has underpinned the birth of the first child conceived with electrophoretically selected sperm cells and currently undergoing international clinical trials; with the first sales anticipated in late 2022.

Pharmaceuticals

We have developed a suite of nano pharmaceuticals and therapeutic drugs to aid in gamete/embryo selection and preservation. These include trademarked formulae and provisional patents for sperm storage medium (SpermSafe). We are also credited with the design and development of nano-drug delivery vehicles based on core-shell mesoporous nanoparticles for the treatment of cancer and bioanalysers for the detection of inorganic, organic and biomaterials. 

As a testament to our standing in the field of environmental toxicology, we have been commissioned by the NSW PFAS Expert Panel to provide advice on requirements and strategies for PFAS site remediation.

This expertise has culminated in the recent award of substantial funding to develop a highly promising PFAS remediation technology.

Our research demonstrating that paternal environmental exposures can influence offspring health has been adopted as primary evidence by the USA National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in their recommendations regarding the importance of peri-conceptual male health. 

Infertility and Reproduction Research Program Team 
  • Program Lead/Chair: Professor Brett Nixon 
  • Deputy Program Lead and/or Chair: A/Prof Mark Baker & Dr Zamira Gibb 
  • Senior Representative: Dr Liza O’Donnell 
  • MCR Representative: Dr Tessa Lord 
  • ECR Representative: Dr David Skerrett-Byrne 
  • Student Representative: Nathan Burke (2nd year PhD student) & Shenae Cafe (2nd year PhD student, embryologist with Genea) 
  • Consumer Representative: Associate Professor Hassan Bakos (Scientific Director for the Monash IVF Group) & Dr Sally Sweeny (Family Planning, NSW) 

 

Dr Jacinta Martin
Research Program :
  • Infertility and Reproduction Research Program
Research Topics :
Reproduction & Infertility
Image of Dr John Schjenken
Research Program :
  • Infertility and Reproduction Research Program
Research Topics :
Pregnancy & Babies, Reproduction & Infertility
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