22 October 2021

Science pioneer celebrates a new paradigm of embryology research at World Congress

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Virtus Health

World-renowned embryologist Professor David Gardner presents the latest breakthroughs on metabolic research, boldly describing several new paradigms, as he prepares to deliver the De Watteville Memorial Lecture at the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) XXIII World Congress, to an audience of over 8,000 healthcare delegates (Oct 23, 2021).

“This is by far the most comprehensive summary of metabolic theory that I have given in the past four decades,” said Professor Gardner, Virtus Health’s Group Director of ART, Scientific Innovation & Research.

“I am humbled to be selected to present the keynote lecture, Hubert De Watteville was the first president of FIGO (1954 – 1958), hence this is an extremely meaningful honour.

“Metabolic research is a field I have been studying my entire 40-year career. My lecture aims to showcase new studies and thought-provoking concepts to stimulate more scientific research.

“Each research project has implications for improving future patient treatments and that’s really exciting,” said Professor Gardner.

During the lecture, Professor Gardner shares the latest research projects from his labs and graduate PhD students.

“I am incredibly proud of the talented young scientists I have trained; they really are intellectually outstanding people,” said Professor Gardner.

“I’ve worked in metabolic function for a long time; my PhD at York and subsequent postdoc at Harvard in the 1980s were on metabolic regulation of embryos.

“You expect that as your career progresses you slow down but around 10 years ago, I opened a veritable ‘Pandora’s box’ revealing several new concepts in metabolic research.

“It really has been nothing short of an epiphany. I want this lecture to convey this excitement, that we really are creating new paradigms.

“The lecture highlights an entirely new field known as metaboloepigenetics, in which we see metabolic functions in a new light. It’s really shifting how we see significance in metabolism development and health,” said Professor Gardner.

The lecture highlights how metabolism impacts embryo implantation; it looks at reproductive ageing; diet and reproduction; the role of oxygen and metabolic biomarkers for embryo selection.

“I discuss the ketogenic diet, and research by PhD student Emma Whatley. We have known for many years the power of environment in modifying embryo development, and this new research provides insight into how diet affects embryonic development.

“The data is an eye-opener; we are learning more and more about how diet interacts with the embryo and how it could affect implantation and establish the pregnancy. We are really excited about where this research can go. 

“I’m also proud to discuss Melbourne IVF’s world-leading ongoing biomarker research in the lecture. It is deeply satisfying to continue to drive new technologies,” said Professor Gardner.

During the lecture Professor Gardner provocatively asks: Is lactic acid the surprising hero of implantation?

“Throughout my career I’ve always pondered on why the embryo at blastocyst stage consumes a lot of oxygen and produces a lot of lactic acid. This area of research has been on my mind for a very long time.

“Blastocysts are very active in consuming glucose and creating lactic acid. They can create high amounts of lactic acid at the implantation site, surprisingly much higher magnitudes then when you exercise.

“In the lecture I highlight the new lactic acid research work of my graduate student Kathryn Gurner. Her research has shown that lactic acid is capable of remodeling endometrial tissue, making it ready to receive the embryo at implantation. It’s always rewarding when data starts to confirm an exciting hypothesis.

“With three papers already published from her PhD so far, I’m thrilled that Kathryn Gurner will commence as a full-time research clinical embryologist at Melbourne IVF next month,” said Professor Gardner.

The lecture is also a celebration of Professor Gardner’s career and translational science.

“I started out as a scientist and was fortunate that my mentors were two of the biggest names in metabolic function and embryology: Professor Henry Leese (York) and Professor John Biggers (Harvard). I then moved to Monash to focus on translational work as I wanted to take research and apply it clinically, so I trained as a clinical embryologist so I could understand human IVF and how I could work to improve it,” said Professor Gardner.

A presentation of Professor Gardner’s pioneering ideas at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine in 1994 led to a chance meeting with the team from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, which ultimately led Professor Gardner to give up his academic career and move to Denver. Here he developed clinical blastocyst transfer and went on to conduct single blastocyst transfer studies. Throughout all of this, his focus on research never stopped.

“We built a strong research program in Denver and every year we would try and deliver something new to the IVF community. It was one of the most exciting times of my life,” said Professor Gardner.

Professor Gardner explains what inspires him today: “Taking great ideas, doing basic research so you have a solid foundation and then translating it into innovation and new technology for our patients, this is what keeps me going.

“It’s through further research that we will continue to help more and more patients become parents,” said Professor Gardner.

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