Research and publications
Find out what we have been doing to improve our clinical practice and fundamental understanding of reproductive biology.
Our founders invented IVF and created Bourn Hall to bring hope to the infertile all over the world. The birth of Louise Brown came after over 20 years of research by Professor Sir Robert Edwards and Mr Patrick Steptoe. Only by understanding the processes of human reproductive biology in great detail could they begin to offer advanced assisted conception treatments like IVF.
Steptoe and Edwards founded the world’s first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall to continue developing the field. They were committed to spreading the knowledge and skills that they developed and to continue the search for still deeper understanding.
Our research continues today and is divided into two parts: Clinical Research which seeks to improve outcomes for the patients we treat, and Fundamental Research, which is targeted to improve our understanding of basic processes of biology, from which we hope to bring forward new therapies and techniques to help create families.
Our philosophy of continuous improvement, our highly skilled people and experience of over 30 years gives us the ability to analyse large data sets to identify areas for improvement in our practice.
We publish our findings regularly in peer-review journals and present our work at national and international conferences.
We also constantly monitor what other groups are doing and after careful internal review adopt new developments that we think can contribute to improved outcomes for our patients.
Although a lot is known about human reproduction there is still a much to find out. Detailed understanding of how cells divide and early embryos grow and how the embryo and the lining of the uterus interact in order to achieve and maintain a pregnancy is essential if we are to develop new treatments in the future.
Advances in molecular and cell biology provide opportunities for sophisticated analysis of the molecular and genetic mechanisms that regulate the viability of gametes and embryos. We have taken the unique opportunity to collaborate with several internationally renowned research teams in Cambridge, London, Leeds and Germany. This access to advanced cutting-edge expertise and technology means that any gamete or embryo donated for research will be used to its maximum potential in order to make a significant contribution to our understanding of early embryo development. Overlapping avenues of research now yield significant insight into pathways and mechanisms of embryonic development that have not previously been accessible to research.
Bourn Hall currently collaborates with the following research centres:
- Francis Crick Institute, London
- Wellcome Trust Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, Cambridge
- University of Cambridge Centre for Trophoblast Research
- University of Cambridge Department of Pathology
- Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cell Signalling Laboratory
All research on embryos is carried out under a license from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, after approval from Bourn Hall’s Ethics Committee as well as London, Leeds and Cambridge Local Research Ethics Committees. Research license information can be found on the HFEA website, under ‘Human embryo research we have approved’
Every healthy gamete and embryo retrieved or generated during any treatment cycle is used firstly for treatment. In the normal course of events, there will be surplus sperm that is not required for treatment, as well as oocytes that fail to mature or fertilise, and unhealthy or abnormal embryos that are not suitable for transfer or freezing. This material provides a very valuable resource for research, allowing us to investigate the mechanisms that can (and do) go wrong during in vitro embryo development and the first stages of implantation.
Healthy embryos that have been frozen and are no longer required due to completion of the family or other reasons, are another valuable resource for investigations into embryo metabolism, the way genetic material is expressed and the mechanisms that lead to implantation.
Embryos that develop in culture to the blastocyst stage (on day five or six of culture) contain cells that can develop into many different types of cell. These are known as stem cells. Molecular biology techniques allow these cells to be analysed in order to gain valuable information about the processes involved in survival and differentiation of early embryonic cells, as well as causes of miscarriage.
Embryos donated for research are allocated to one of our collaborating research centres. Every gamete or embryo donated for research makes a valuable contribution to our work, and is greatly appreciated. The information gained from scientific studies may not only help us to improve fertility treatment, understand the origin of defects and avoid miscarriage, but also lead to development of new research tools that can help find cures for many serious disorders.
All of our research collaborations are licensed by our regulatory body, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, and subjected to independent ethical committee review. Research involving unfertilized oocytes or sperm must be approved by local Research Ethics Committees, but does not require a license from the HFEA.
Our research proramme investigating the development of immature oocytes in carried out in collaboration with Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Department of Meiosis in Mammalian Oocytes.