From Adelaide University
US $1.2m grant awarded for impact of stress on eggs and embryos A team of researchers headed by the University of Adelaide has been awarded a US$1.27 million grant from the United States to study how lifestyle and health "stress" on eggs and embryos can impact on the later life of children.
The grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) in the US has been awarded to an Australian team comprising researchers from the University of Adelaide's Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and the University of Queensland's Department of Physiology.
The team is led by Dr Jeremy Thompson, Head of Clinical and Research Embryology at the University of Adelaide's Reproductive Medicine Unit, based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The funding is part of the NICHD's National Cooperative Program on Female Health and Egg Quality.
The program was established to try to better understand the impact of poor nutrition, extreme exercise, smoking, certain assisted reproductive technologies and other adverse health situations on reproductive processes prior to and around the time of fertilisation in females.
Of around 35 international applications, seven have been funded, including the Adelaide/Queensland team. Their five-year research project begins on September 1.
"Fundamental questions regarding the long-term health of children conceived during poor maternal health or adverse lifestyle choices, or conceived in the course of infertility treatment, remain unanswered and are logistically difficult to resolve," Dr Thompson says.
"Our team has shown, using animal models, that the 'microenvironment' surrounding the early embryo can influence subsequent fetal development, even if the change in the environment is something quite subtle and the exposure to the change occurs only in the first days following fertilisation.
"We believe that if the microenvironment surrounding the egg or early embryo varies from normal conditions, then this will induce a molecular and biochemical stress response that 'programs' embryo development, leading to altered fetal development.
"The embryo still grows and appears relatively normal, but is adapted to the 'new' environment. The adaptation is long-term, even if the change in the environment isn't."
Dr Thompson says the association between 'embryonic programming' and potential risks of adult onset diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes, remains unclear.
"Growth-retarded fetal development is known to have long term consequences for adult health, but there are many other mysteries here waiting to be solved," he says.
Using animal models, the research team will look at what happens to the egg and early embryo when they develop in situations where their microenvironment has changed, and study the link of those changes with fetal development and longer-term effects.
"By understanding the effect of the microenvironment on cellular and molecular behaviour of eggs and embryos, we hope to improve the developmental outcomes for both mothers and babies," Dr Thompson says.
"This knowledge will also assist health professionals develop strategies to reduce the risk of adult onset diseases caused by problems in early development," he says.
Progress by the research team will be substantially aided by the arrival of Dr Michelle Lane to the University of Adelaide's Reproductive Medicine Unit.
Dr Lane is an internationally recognised authority on the effect of the microenvironment on early embryo development.
She will join the Adelaide team in August, from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, Denver, USA.
"We are very excited by the arrival of Dr Lane. This further establishes Adelaide as an internationally recognised centre of embryological research," Dr Thompson says.
The members of the research team are: Drs Jeremy Thompson, Karen Kind, Lisa Edwards, Claire Roberts, Rob Gilchrist and Sarah Robertson (Adelaide) and Associate Professor Peter Kaye and Dr Marie Pantaleon (Queensland).
Media contact: Dr Jeremy Thompson, Reproductive Medicine Unit, University of Adelaide: 61-8-8222-8408 (work), or 61-408-849-172 (mobile), firstname.lastname@example.org