Reproduction and Development

The Reproduction & Development Groups investigate the molecular, cellular, endocrine and genetic control of reproduction and development of mammals, using both eutherian and marsupial models, with a focus on biomedical research and translational outcomes. Major areas of research include; physiology and molecular biology of preimplantation embryo development, embryo culture and metabolism, germ and stem cell biology, endocrinology, epigenetics and genomic imprinting, comparative genomics, ovarian development and folliculogenesis, fertilisation, sperm biology, effects of environmental toxins, molecular control of embryonic diapause, lactation, placentation, sex determination, sexual differentiation, fetal development, and growth control. Clinically related research includes understanding disorders of sexual development, premature ovarian failure and the developmental origins of health and disease, improving assisted reproductive outcomes and the treatment of pre-eclampsia.

Labs

There are a number of labs associated with the Reproduction and Developments Groups. Labs include:

  • Familari Lab - Organogenesis and Differentiation

    Objective

    The Familari Lab investigates how the testis, ovary and placenta are formed in mouse and humans. We are particularly interested in the function of Tob1, a gene expressed in developing germ cells and Esrp1 which is expressed in stem cells found in the adult testis. We also study the function of human placenta-derived extracellular vesicles that are a form of cellular communication between the mother and fetus during pregnancy and appear to play an important role in the pathophysiology of preclampsia. We use molecular biology approaches, animal models and human ex-vivo models to study the function of these genes and vesicles.

    Research areas

    • The role of Tob1 in primordial follicle activation;
    • Esrp1 regulation of spliced genes in spermatogonia;
    • The function of placenta-derived extracellular vesicles on endothelial cell function.

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  • Gardner Lab - Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) and embryonic stem cells

    Objective

    As the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART) continues to increase, a significant goal in contemporary infertility research is to decrease the prevalence of multiple gestations while maintaining or improving pregnancy rates.

    The Gardner Lab is developing technologies to accurately evaluate the reproductive potential and quality of individual embryos with the aim for single embryo transfer. We study the development of the embryo at the molecular, biochemical and cellular level, and apply techniques and concepts in genetics, proteomics, metabolomics and microfluidics.

    We also investigate the embryo developmental process, gene expression and intracellular cell signalling to identify and understand the mechanisms of development. Our group also researches the cryopreservation of gametes and embryos as the move towards single embryo transfer becomes the standard for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment creates a need for a successful frozen embryo program. In addition, our team focusses on the characterisation of metabolic processes that regulate embryonic stem cells and their differentiation potential.

    Research areas

    • IVF and embryo culture systems;
    • Embryo metabolism and developmental kinetics;
    • Embryonic stem cell culture;
    • Development Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD);
    • Gamete maturation and cryopreservation;
    • Biomarkers of embryo viability.

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  • Green Lab - Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) and environment disruptors

    Objective

    We are beginning to understand much more about how the surrounding environment and our interaction with it can influence the reproductive capability of an individual. Equally, how numerous factors (dietary and environmental) can impact maternal and paternal contributions to an embryo, as well as the subsequent growth and health of the offspring. These are coupled with a growing reliance on assisted reproductive technologies (ART) in order to reproduce.

    Our lab investigates the fascinating interactions between all these components. In particular, our research centres on improving outcomes of human and animal ART, identifying critical pathways in early embryo development and metabolism, and determining the effects of endocrine and environmental factors on fertility and offspring health.

    Research areas

    • Environmental pollutants and embryo development;
    • Sperm microfluidics;
    • Mitochondrial heteroplasmy in oocyte and embryo development;
    • The phenotype of IVF children;
    • The health of cloned animals;
    • Melatonin and artificial light at night on fecundity.

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  • Parry Lab - Treatments for preeclampsia

    Objective

    Our research focuses on the function of the mother’s blood vessels during and after her pregnancy. In preeclampsia, maternal blood vessels are “damaged” and do not dilate sufficiently (vascular dysfunction). This leads to increased blood pressure and abnormal kidney function. For women with severe, early-onset preeclampsia, the fetus has to be delivered to save the mother. This has very serious consequences for the fetus because it is born prematurely.

    We use animal models of preeclampsia and blood vessels from women with preeclampsia to study how blood vessel function is impaired. We also work with clinicians and researchers at The Mercy Hospital for Women (Melbourne) to test novel drugs and treatments for preeclampsia. Our laboratory has particular expertise in pressure and wire myography, contemporary molecular biology techniques and protein analysis to assess vascular function and the molecular pathways that regulate vasodilation.

    Research areas

    • Regulation of uterine and mesenteric artery function during pregnancy;
    • Molecular pathways that regulate vasodilation;
    • Testing of drug treatments for preeclampsia.

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  • Pask Lab - Reproductive development, disease and comparative genomics

    Objective

    The primary focus of Pask Lab research is to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms that lead to formation of the male and female reproductive tracts from a common urogenital system.

    The formation of the testis or ovary is a critical step in human development. Disorders of sexual differentiation are of prime medical and clinical significance being the most common genetic disorders of live human births. While a failure of normal gonadal development is not life threatening, is of great significance to the fertility of the individual. The gonad also provides an ideal model tissue in which to study the process of organogenesis, since two completely different organs can arise from an essentially identical primordium. My lab uses a number of unique model systems, genomics and transcriptomics to study these critical aspects of mammalian development.

    Research areas

    • Development and disease of the external genitalia;
    • Molecular control of ovarian differentiation;
    • Mammalian body patterning;
    • Comparative genomics.

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  • Renfree/Shaw Lab -  Molecular and endocrine control of reproduction & development

    Objective

    Our research covers a wide range of questions in reproductive and developmental biology, using physiological, endocrine, genetic, and comparative genomic techniques. The main focus is to understand the genetic, epigenetic, cellular and hormonal control of the formation of the early embryo and the gonads, pregnancy, fetal and neonatal growth and lactation. The epigenetic control of early development is an increasingly important area of research with clinical application.

    Disorders of sexual differentiation are amongst the most common birth defects. We have developed the marsupial as a model for understanding human development. Our research has resulted in clinical endocrinology guidelines on human sexual disorders. We have completed two genomes of Australian native mammals, which are facilitating the understanding  of developmental and reproductive processes in all mammals including humans.

    Research areas

    • Sexual development and disorders;
    • Germ cell and gonadal biology;
    • Comparative genomics and epigenetics;
    • Embryonic diapause and cell lineage specification;
    • Comparative reproductive immunology;
    • Endocrine control of growth and development.

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