Travel Story: Dr Tod Fullston

Dr Tod Fullston from the Robinson Research Institute’s Gamete and Embryo Biology Research Group attended the Obesity Summit and Reproductive Health Summit in London, UK in April 2016.

Tod was invited to give talks on his research Paternal obesity alters sperm non-coding RNAs, which can program embryo and offspring development and Sperm non-coding RNAs can program embryo and offspring development.

This is what Tod had to say about his experience:

What was a highlight of the conference?

The following four presentations were highlights for me:

  • Prof Thierry Arnould’s presentation at the Obesity Summit about mitochondrial function/dysfunction in adipocytes due to obesity and how the uncoupling effects of Sirtuin 3 might form the basis of a treatment for obesity related comorbidities.
  • Prof Darren Griffin’s presentation at the Reproductive Health Summit about a historical overview of PGD/PGS testing for aneuploidy from the UK perspective, which has been a pioneering hub for many of the techniques that have been developed for the genetic screening of embryos.
  • Prof Joyce Harper, a well-known Science Communicator that also engages with politics, who gave a futuristic presentation at the Reproductive Health Summit. She covered controversial topics such as the potential for genetic engineering of embryos & Reproduction without Sex.
  • Prof Thomas Meier, a renowned cell biologist that researches endometrial receptivity and embryo implantation.  We have many discussions following our talks and mutual interest in molecular biology, including small non-coding RNAs and how best to investigate them.

Did you meet any researchers or collaborators of significance? Why are they important to your work?

Dr Stephan Axer from Torsby Hospital, Sweden at the Obesity Summit – a bariatric surgeon who pioneered a specific technique that enables better outcomes post bariatric surgery to treat Obesity (duodenal switch technique; SOFY-DS). This surgeon was unaware that male obesity can impair fertility and is keen to collaborate to study the fertility in his male patients, which will help me translate some of my basic research into a clinical setting.

Dr David MacIntyre from Imperial College, UK (Australian expat) at the Reproductive Health Summit – who researches how the vaginal microbiota interacts with the pregnant host. This collaboration could align with some basic research we are currently conducting – looking at how the female tract responds to the seminal fluid/sperm in a mouse model of obesity. The vaginal microbiome’s response in this setting will interesting and novel dimension to these studies.

Did you visit any other labs or research facilities? How these visits will be useful to your work and/or career development?

I visited the University of Southampton & the University of Greenwich and briefly toured and met researchers within the Clinical Epidemiology unit in the Department of Community Medicine at the University of Southampton, where David Barker was based for most of his career. The University of Greenwich is an old campus that dates back to 1890 and is located on the River Thames and forms part of some striking architecture in front of the Royal Observatory, home to the zero meridian of Greenwich Mean Time.

How will the experience support you and your research going forward?

This travel has enabled me to begin international collaborations, which will hopefully lead to an expansion of my research Network in the form of publications or grants.

Given that without this travel I would not have been able to attend these meetings, it has been essential to bolstering the number of invited presentations I have given at international meetings, which strengthens my CV and competiveness for attracting further grants/fellowships.

What was the most exciting thing you learned/experienced at the Conference?

The fascinating advances being made in exercise physiology for the treatment of obesity, both in the use of high intensity interval training and more traditional exercise regimes.  It remains difficult for me to understand that when implemented at a population level exercise does not reduce weight, nor are many types of bariatric surgery effective for long term weight loss (i.e. bounce back in weight)

What was the most interesting or unexpected moment of your travel?

A bariatric surgeon arrived replete with his own entourage that included a body guard and a film crew – turns out they were filming a promotional video for his surgery during his attendance at the conference.

Every attendee received a trial pack of ‘OptiBac probiotics’ that are designed to optimise the vaginal microbiome, presumably to be taken orally and apparently ‘…proven to reach the vagina alive.’

The conference was held in a theatre, in a Cinema that was within the famous O2 concert/entertainment venue.

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