The Institute for Reproductive Sciences – a new centre for cutting-edge research into causes of infertility and assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF – has opened on the Oxford Business Park in Cowley.
The £3 million development brings together under one roof the University of Oxford’s world-class research in reproductive medicine; the Oxford Fertility Unit, a research-led IVF clinic known for pioneering new treatments; and new University teaching laboratories for a Master’s degree course to train the next generation of scientists and clinicians in this area of medicine.
‘The new Institute for Reproductive Sciences concentrates the best research and clinical provision of fertility treatments in one place, with state-of-the-art facilities that have been designed for this purpose,’ says Dr Enda McVeigh, co-director of the new Institute and a Senior Fellow in Reproductive Medicine in the University’s Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
‘Couples will be able to access the latest treatments, such as new embryo screening techniques that have been developed here, and we expect this concentration of research excellence will lead to further advances that will benefit even more couples in the future,’ he adds.
Infertility is estimated to affect around one in seven UK couples – approximately 3.5 million people – at some point. Although many of these will become pregnant naturally given time, a significant minority will not.
The Oxford Fertility Unit, which is an independent organisation, maintains strong research partnerships with the University and the senior members of its team all have positions at the University. This research focus has given the Unit its reputation for advancing new treatments.
The move from premises at the Women’s Centre of the John Radcliffe Hospital, which were getting increasingly cramped, means Oxford Fertility Unit now has significantly more space. Importantly, couples no longer have to walk through the maternity unit of the hospital to reach the Unit.
‘We find that couples want to come to a cutting-edge unit with research affiliations,’ says Dr Tim Child, a Senior Fellow in Reproductive Medicine at the University and co-director of the Institute for Reproductive Sciences along with Dr McVeigh. ‘All IVF couples are offered the opportunity to become involved in research studies going on at the University, and people do get involved and interested in the science that could benefit others as well.’
In 2007, Dr Child delivered the first IVM babies in the UK, and the Oxford Fertility Unit is still the only UK centre to offer this treatment. In-vitro maturation (IVM) is an increasingly effective alternative to IVF, particularly for women with polycystic ovaries.
Ten researchers from the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Oxford will be based at the Institute, and another 20-30 associate researchers in the department will also use the laboratory facilities as part of their work. Their research ranges from understanding fundamental causes of infertility, identifying factors that control how embryos implant in the womb, and research with new stem cell lines, to developing new screening methods to find viable embryos for implantation in the womb during IVF.
A new method for pre-implantation genetic screening of embryos has been pioneered by Dr Dagan Wells, whose research team is based in the new Institute. Comparative genomic hybridisation (CGH) is able to test for significant rearrangements or abnormalities in chromosomes of developing embryos before they are implanted. This should reduce the chances of miscarriage and can check for conditions like Down’s syndrome. Recent results showing increased chances of IVF success using this technique among women at one US centre were recently presented by Dr Wells at a scientific conference in America. The technique is now available as an option at the Oxford Fertility Unit.
‘The concentration of expertise in patient care and cutting edge research in the same purpose-built facility provides a unique opportunity to develop improved techniques for treating patients suffering from infertility,’ said Dr Wells, a Senior Fellow at the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who is funded by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.
The Institute for Reproductive Sciences also includes new teaching and laboratory space for the University of Oxford’s MSc in Clinical Embryology. This one-year course is in its second year and has already attracted students and clinicians from every continent. The course aims to prepare graduate students, scientists and clinicians for employment within the clinical embryology or assisted reproduction sector or for a research career in reproductive science.
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Notes to Editors:
* The Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the University of Oxford is based in the Women’s Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital, and benefits from an unusually strong combination of clinical practice and basic science. The department teaches obstetrics and gynaecology to clinical students and also provides teaching for undergraduate pre-clinical students. Research in the department covers a wide range of important issues in human reproduction and applied basic science, ranging from genetic studies through clinical studies in women’s health and pregnancy, to epidemiological and health services research. The Honorary Consultants in the department are responsible for providing a substantial portion of the clinical services in the Women’s Centre at the John Radcliffe Hospital.
* The Oxford Fertility Unit has helped in the conception of over 5,000 children since its founding in 1985. Its pregnancy success rates are among the highest in the country, and around 50% of the IVF cycles carried out are done so on the NHS. It expects to carry out 1500 IVF cycles on the NHS next year and it has contracts with 21 NHS Primary Care Trusts across the south of England. The Unit is regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) which makes regular inspections and maintains a register of all treatment cycles.
* The MSc in Clinical Embryology offered by the University of Oxford is a one-year, residential, taught course that provides graduate students, scientists and clinicians with the latest understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and assisted reproductive technology (ART), along with intensive ‘hands-on’ practical training in essential laboratory skills, including the sophisticated micromanipulation techniques associated with ART.
* Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe. It represents almost one-third of Oxford University’s income and expenditure, and two-thirds of its external research income. Oxford’s world-renowned global health programme is a leader in the fight against infectious diseases (such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and avian flu) and other prevalent diseases (such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes). Key to its success is a long-standing network of dedicated Wellcome Trust-funded research units in Asia (Thailand, Laos and Vietnam) and Kenya, and work at the MRC Unit in The Gambia. Long-term studies of patients around the world are supported by basic science at Oxford and have led to many exciting developments, including potential vaccines for tuberculosis, malaria and HIV, which are in clinical trials.
* The Oxford comprehensive Biomedical Research Centre (OxBRC) is a partnership between the research expertise of the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Oxford. It has been made possible by a grant from the Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under the programme ‘Best Research for Best Health’. The goal of the health research strategy is to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research and establish the NHS as an internationally recognised centre of excellence, by improving research, healthcare education and training. The Oxford BRC undertakes ‘translational research’, meaning first time studies in patients of innovations, intended to improve healthcare.