Dr Roy Farquharson, European Society of Human Reproduction and EmbryologyChair, said:
“ESHRE is delighted to support this important area of research into preparation for motherhood. The overwhelming evidence from expert peer review to an enthusiastic grant response allowed this particular application to be number one. We hope that this project sheds light in understanding the implications of maternal obesity.”
Dr Sturmey said: “With the prevalence of obesity in women who are trying to conceive, advances in our knowledge of the effect of being overweight on the health of the embryo are urgently needed.
“There is persuasive evidence that events prior to and during the first days of pregnancy may influence the lifelong health of the offspring and that the earliest stages of fertilisation and implantation are particularly sensitive to maternal obesity.
“This grant from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology will enable us to investigate the type of modifications to the early stages of development which are influenced by maternal obesity during this crucial stage of conception in more detail than before. It will also pave the way to understand how to modify the environment in which these crucial stages of development occur during assisted conception (IVF) and potentially prevent some of the long-term effects on the embryo.”
Dr Sturmey’s earlier work with the Hull IVF clinic has shown that the embryos arising from eggs from women who are overweight and obese generate their cellular energy in ways that differ from women who are of a healthy weight.
Dr Sturmey said: “IVF is fundamentally a safe procedure, however, we need to understand in more detail what the changes in the embryo arising from maternal obesity mean for the long term health of the child and whether they can be prevented by ‘guiding’ the biochemistry of the embryo toward a healthy direction.”
The research team will carry out a detailed comparison of the way that early embryos create the energy that they need to fuel development, and how these processes differ between women who are overweight and those of a healthy weight.
Using state of the art techniques the research will look at how the pattern of genes expressed by the embryos is influenced by the energy-generating pathways and then attempt to restore the optimum profiles in those embryos from women who are overweight. This will be achieved using a suite of non-invasive tests of embryo biochemistry, as well as observing how the embryos divide. These findings will be aligned to cutting edge analyses of the network of genes expressed to understand precisely how metabolic changes in these first few days during and after conception can influence the lifelong health of the child.
The project will take place over a period of 2 years in the Allam Medical Building, at the heart of the University’s £28 million health campus which is home to world-leading research and innovative teaching.
This grant will build on other significant research projects that are already ongoing at the University, including the development of a new model system of the Fallopian Tube to understand how the environment normally around the embryo can potentially alter the health of the offspring.
The collaboration will also build on expertise in the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at the University of Manchester on the genetic regulation of early embryo development and child growth.
Dr Adam Stevens, Research Fellow at the University of Manchester, said: “I believe that the application of cutting edge systems biology approaches is essential to the understanding of complex gene networks such as we see in early growth. I am delighted to be continuing my collaborations with Dr Sturmey in this area.”