Research on the immune response to pregnancy by Prof Sarah Robertson led to the development of a first-in-class embryo culture media to increase chances of embryo implantation in women suffering repeated IVF failure.

Prof Robertson partnered with Danish company Origio A/S to develop EmbryoGen, which contains immune factors to promote robust embryo development. EmbryoGen and its related product BlastGen have been sold into >50 countries by Origio A/S since 2012 and have helped many people around the world experiencing infertility and recurrent miscarriage. It is estimated that around 40,000 babies have been born to into previously childless families using this approach.

The active factor in EmbryoGen is GM-CSF, an immune-regulatory growth factor produced naturally in the uterus and fallopian tubes. Over 20 years of research, Prof Robertson and her team identified the pivotal role of GM-CSF in supporting healthy embryo formation and boosting embryo developmental competence. They found that GM-CSF acts to protect embryos from cell stress and strengthens the embryo to support implantation and enable robust placental development. Clinical trials with 1319 IVF patients using either EmbryoGen media or standard IVF media showed a 20% increase in embryo implantation rate and fewer miscarriages using EmbryoGen. In fact, the women who previously miscarried experienced a 40% increase in implantation success. This research was striking as the scientific consensus in reproductive medicine at the time was that embryos did not require growth factors for optimal development.  

Prof Robertson's research has been consistently supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council since the early 1990's and she currently holds an NHMRC Investigator Fellowship. She is an elected Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy for Health and Medical Sciences and has received several awards including the prestigious NHMRC Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award for Leadership in Basic Science. She continues her research in reproductive biology seeking to advance new treatments for pregnancy disorders through understanding the immune regulation of conception and pregnancy.

This story is published as part of the "15th Anniversary Celebration" series of the Robinson Research Institute. Highlighting the achievements and life-changing breakthroughs of our research teams.


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