Fertility and Conception Theme
Conception is the foundation event for each new life. Every child's development, growth trajectory and health over the life course is set in motion from the moment sperm and oocyte unite to form an embryo.
The Robinson Research Institute's Fertility and Conception Theme is focused on defining biological and social factors that manifest from before pregnancy to influence the events that allow healthy conception. These include generation of gametes, fertilisation and embryo development, and uterine receptivity for implantation and placental formation. These factors ultimately determine not only whether pregnancy can commence, but also the progression of pregnancy, the growth of the fetus in utero and the health of the infant after birth.
Achieving healthy natural conception is a challenge for many people - and most prospective parents are unaware of the enormous impact of early events on their child's future. Infertility is common with 1 in 6 couples being classified as clinically infertile, and now almost 1 in 25 children are conceived by IVF. The reasons are often not readily identifiable, but there is substantial evidence that age, health conditions and lifestyle factors - obesity, infection, nutrition, exercise, alcohol, smoking and chemical exposure - are major contributors to reproductive health in men and women. Infertility places considerable stress on couples, which further reduces the likelihood of conception. Current IVF treatments are expensive, invasive, and are linked with small but real risks for the pregnancy and child that would be better avoided.
Our aim is to generate new knowledge of reproductive biology and to provide leadership in advancing reproductive medicine. Our research will maximise fertility and pre-conception health, to reduce the incidence of infertility and related reproductive conditions and diseases, to more cost-effectively alleviate and treat infertility and to give consumers and practitioners more insight, greater control and informed choice in effectively managing their reproductive potential.
Moreover we recognise the value of empowering all prospective parents with the knowledge that healthy conception is the paramount opportunity for transmission of health and resilience to the next generation.
To achieve this, our research is focused on:
- Expanding knowledge of the molecular and cellular biology of each phase of the reproductive cycle
- Defining genetic and non-genetic mechanisms of epigenetic modification and developmental programming in gametes and embryos
- Understanding the causes of fertility and subfertility and their relationship with health conditions, lifestyle choices and experiences
- Reducing reliance on assisted reproductive technology and providing alternative options to IVF
- Understanding the pathophysiological mechanisms of diseases that affect reproductive capability
- Developing improved advice, interventions and treatments for infertility and reproductive diseases
- Devising better strategies for contraception and population control in people and animals
- Developing technologies and practices to improve reproductive productivity in agricultural species
We are well-placed to uncover the mechanisms of fertility and conception. We have more than 80 scientists organised into 17 internationally recognised research groups working collaboratively in this area, with expertise spanning each stage of the reproductive process and an array of national and international collaborations.
We partner with industry and various commercial entities to deliver benefits of our research to the community. Our extensive track record and many successes in this area include the following highlights:
- Leading the development of IVF technology in the 1970's
- First Australian baby born by intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection in the 1980's
- Major advances in culture media formulations for human and animal IVF in the 1990's and onwards
- Development of EmbryoGen, a new IVF innovation for couples that have experienced miscarriage
- Building modern concepts of how the ovary develops and functions, and how oocytes and embryos communicate with support cells and tissues
- Defining how physical, metabolic and inflammatory perturbations to gamete and embryo development are linked to altered fetal growth and health after birth
- Identifying metabolic and epigenetic mechanisms underpinning developmental programming of gametes and embryos