World infertility awareness month – towards solutions

Being able to get pregnant is not a given. Infertility affects around 17,5% of the adult population, both men and women, which is equivalent to 1 in 6 people. World Infertility Awareness Month aims to create awareness about this global problem.

Despite recent advances in the field of infertility that have been life-changing for infertile couples, challenges remain. For instance, 1 out of 7 babies are nowadays born out of fertility treatments such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), yet the success rate of IVF treatments is still less than 50%.

Within reNEW, three research groups aim to overcome remaining issues around infertility. To this end, they use stem cells to gain a better understanding on early stages of human development. Knowledge that is beneficial for development and improvement of therapies for infertility.

Energy consumption and its implications during the first days of development
Associate Professor Jan Żylicz (reNEW Copenhagen) and his lab focus on the first days of human development. Within the first week after fertilization, stem cells make initial decisions crucial for the successful implantation of the embryo. In addition to transcription factors, regulation via epigenetic and metabolic mechanisms play a key role in how stem cells make decisions. When the environment of the embryo changes or when development progresses, metabolic reactions are rapidly affected and these in turn will regulate a host of cellular functions including transcription factor networks and epigenetics. This means that the way the human embryo in IVF treatment produces and consumes energy has profound implications for successful development and pregnancy.

The Żylicz team studies how the embryo interacts with and adapts to its environment, and how this affects its development and life after birth. This could help understand how IVF media could be redesigned in the future to improve the efficiency of fertility implantations.

Improving fertility by understanding human gametogenesis and early development
Professor Susana Chuva de Sousa Lopes (reNEW Leiden) and her lab study human reproduction and development. Within reNEW, she applies knowledge on these processes to develop sperm and egg cells – the two critical components for successful fertilization – in the lab using human induced pluripotent stem cells. She also studies what can go wrong after fertilization, during the early stages of embryo development and organ formation.

This expertise will allow Chuva de Sousa Lopes to generate stem cell-based disease models of infertility in the lab. Close examination of these models and comparison to healthy models of development will allow her team to identify the problem that causes infertility and test potential treatments to overcome this problem. It could thereby lead to personalized treatments that overcome infertility.

How do cells control their identity during development and differentiation?
Professor Josh Brickman (reNEW Copenhagen) and his lab study how cells control their identity during development and differentiation. All cells in the body have the same genes and the same instructions on how to make each cell. But how does one become a muscle cell and the other a nerve cell? They want to understand how cells decide to turn on or off certain genes, so they can become a certain, specialised cell and they approach this questions at the earliest stages of human development. Here they focus on the second cell fate choice in human development: the decision to make embryonic epiblast and extra-embryonic hypoblast. The latter tissue provides nutrients to the embryo. However, the hypoblast is about more than just nutrients, as recent studies on human IVF embryos show that the only signature associated with sucessful implantation is hypoblast, so it is clearly the major key to improving IVF success rates.

With respect to Hypoblast, the Brickman lab has made a number of recent discoveries. They have found that the hypoblast is important reservoir of cells to regenerate aspects of the forming embryo. They are also the only group to produce human hypoblast stem cells, a cell type they call naïve extra-embryinic endoderm stem cells. Through their development of new technology to support hypoblast development in a dish, the Brickman group hope to produce new approaches to human embryo culture that will promote hypoblast development and sucessful implantation.

Esteemed colleagues from reNEW elected members of EMBO

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine is proud to announce that CEO and Executive Director of reNEW, Professor Mellissa H. Little and Principal Investigator at reNEW’s Copenhagen node, Professor Joshua Brickman, have this year been elected members of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization – EMBO.

4M euros for research into nuclear metabolism

Associate Professor Jan Żylicz from reNEW Copenhagen node, as part of an international consortium, has been awarded an MSCA Doctoral Networks Grant for project; NUCLEAR – metabolic regulation of genome function and cell identity.

The Serup Group in Copenhagen break new ground on the development of a stem cell therapy to treat diabetes

Assistant Professor Philip Seymour, former Assistant Professor Nina Funa and PhD student Heidi Mjøseng, with colleagues from the Serup Group at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, reNEW, University of Copenhagen, have had a paper published in Stem Cell Reports investigating further development of a cellular therapy to replace the lost insulin-producing beta cells in type one diabetics.