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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Professor Lord Winston delivers thought provoking speech at IfLS reproductive biology conference

Published: 19 September 2013
Professor Lord Winston

Professor Robert Winston delivered a compelling keynote speech to fellow scientists at the Institute for Life Sciences’ human reproduction conference in September, urging caution in the way reproductive science develops.

Professor Winston said there were still many unknowns in reproductive biology, adding that continued research is needed. At the same time he praised the quality of the research work being undertaken by University of Southampton scientists, saying: “I must congratulate you on what you are doing at Southampton; I wish we had more of this kind of thing in the UK.”

The peer, who was involved in drafting The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, also warned of a ‘misuse and lack of use’ of science in IVF, saying that some private clinics were failing to examine women adequately before treatment. “There is extraordinary profiteering going on in this area, which is in my view outrageous,” he said.

Each year the IfLS hosts a conference focussing on a particular area of life sciences that reflects the strengths, expertise and interests of its members. This year's one-day interdisciplinary conference, entitled ‘Reproductive Biology - from gametes to systems, and between generations,' was attended by some of the UK's most accomplished reproductive scientists.

Other high profile speakers at the event included Professor Evelyn Telfer, who is Personal Chair in Reproductive Biology at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Telfer presented her ground breaking findings that ovaries have a capacity for regeneration: a discovery that has shattered a decades-old belief that this was not the case.

Southampton's Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Professor Nicholas Macklon

The University of Southampton's Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Nicholas Macklon, presented findings which demonstrated that the uterus could effectively reject low quality embryos by not allowing them to become implanted. He told the audience that a less selective uterus, which readily accepted low quality embryos, might be the reason why some women are more prone to miscarriages further down the line.

Professor Macklon said: "Our research has shown that one of the signals which the uterus can pick up on in determining the quality of the embryo is the amount of trypsin it gives off. The lack of trypsin signals appears to indicate to the endometrium that the embryo's quality is not very high and initiates a reduction in receptivity to implantation. 

Senior Lecturer in Proteomics and Systems Biology
Dr Robert Ewing

During the afternoon session, academics based at the University of Southampton from a variety of specialist scientific disciplines covered the often controversial subject of stem cell research in considerable depth. Dr Robert Ewing, who is a Senior Lecturer in Proteomics and Systems Biology, explained how he was using computer science to catalogue tens of thousands of proteins to help better understand how stem cells differentiate into other types of cell.

This theme was continued by Dr Ben MacArthur, Lecturer in Mathematics at the Life Science Interface, who has been using mathematical modelling to sift through vast quantities of information to find commonalities in the genes within different types of stem cells in order to help identify their purposes.

Senior Lecturer in Stem Cells and Developmental Biology, Dr Franchesca Houghton, then shared her recent discovery that stem cells can be examined outside the body for longer by culturing them at an oxygen tension of just five per cent; therefore giving scientists a greater opportunity to observe their behaviour.

During the day there were also presentations on environmental factors affecting the health of a foetus right through into adulthood. These came from Professor Paul Fowler, who is Chair in Translational Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen, along with our own Reader of Epigenetics Dr Karen Lillycrop, and Senior Lecturer in Early Development Dr Judith Eckert.

Other contributors included Dr John Parrington, Lecturer in Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology from the University of Oxford, and Dr Roger Sturmey, Lecturer in Reproductive Medicine from Hull York Medical School. In addition, presentations were given by Research Fellow for Biological Sciences, Dr Simon Lane, and Reader in Development and Cell Biology, Dr Neil Smyth, both based at the University of Southampton.

Speaking afterwards, Director of the Institute for Life Sciences, Professor Peter Smith, said: "I wish to thank all those who contributed to making this conference truly world class. At the University of Southampton we represent a major force in the development of interdisciplinary life sciences, and I think this fact is very much in evidence when you look at the long list of exceptional individuals who found time to attend this event."

Further to the podcasts that introduced the conference, Professor Keith Jones discusses in the video below, the key outcomes of the event, the research covered and the thought provoking issues raised. 

Following this podcast is Professor Lord Winston's key note speech 'Where does reproductive medicine go in the next 35 years?'.

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