We know almost nothing of the biology occurring as sperm traverse the female tract, but intriguing new evidence suggests that sperm may activate signalling responses in cells of the female tract and play a key role in preparation for embryo implantation. It may even be that signalling triggered by sperm before embryo implantation in the uterus goes on to affect the health of any child born.
A powerful canine model (developed at Nottingham University, UK), using sperm from healthy stud dogs and material from routine castrations and spays, has already been used to investigate effects of environmental chemicals at concentrations present in testis and ejaculate. In this project we will use state of the art imaging and proteomic techniques to study sperm-tract interaction in human material, and extend the canine studies to a parallel co-culture model. This unique approach will enable us to investigate what actually happens during the journey of a sperm and how that may influence future adult health under normal and environmentally perturbed conditions.
Endometrial Fluid Metabolomics
In IVF or ICSI treatment the goal is to produce a good quality embryo with artificial fertilization. Following this, the embryo must implant into the womb in order for a pregnancy to be achieved. This is a complex process leading to a high frequency of failed treatment. It is this area which remains the rate limiting step in IVF treatment success. This has led to much research into the womb cavity environment and the factors that determine womb lining receptivity to an embryo.
Metabolomics is the study of substances that are present in any biological fluid. The Endometrial Fluid Metabolomics project aims to study the pattern of substances that are present in the womb cavity fluid at the time of inserting an embryo. We aim to find a particular pattern of metabolic substances which encourages successful IVF treatment. Obtaining a better understanding of embryo implantation in IVF treatment may allow us to improve IVF treatment success in patients.
Across Europe around 1 in 6 couples resort to fertility treatment in their struggle to have a child, over half of these will have a male partner who factors in the fertility problem. However the techniques currently used to move towards conception rely on a series of procedures for the female partner, which all carry risk. It is therefore not just of financial interest, but also of female health interest that successful healthy live birth can be achieved with as few rounds of treatment as possible.
For some couples it is likely that sperm DNA quality is a key factor as this relates to miscarriage (Robinson et al., 2012) and is also suggested to relate to poorer fertilization, embryo development rates and increases in the likelihood of childhood cancers (Aitken et al., 2014). This project aims to study the link between DNA damage in sperm to couples’ difficulty in conceiving and to the increased likelihood of miscarriage. If successful, this can be translated into clinical assessment of couples seeking assisted contraception and help direct therapy.
This research was recently featured on Embarrassing Bodies, where Jackson discussed our findings so far with Dr Christian Jessen.
Our miscarriage study is done in partnership with the National Centre for Miscarriage Research, based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Click here for more information on Tommy’s Research. Tommy’s funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss. We can keep you updated on our work and opportunities to support our campaign for change. Click here to join the #TogetherForChange campaign.