Monthly Archives: May 2015

Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis International Society (PGDIS) meeting

Following a highly successful meeting held in Canterbury in 2014, the PGDIS bandwagon moved to Chicago for its 14th symposium. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of PGD being performed by the group of CISoR’s Professor Alan Handyside (at the Hammersmith Hospital), the meeting had both a nostalgic and clinical flavour.

CISoR Quartet




CISoR quartet. Darren Griffin, Luca Gianaroli, Gary Harton and Alan Thornhill


Due to being incapacitated with a broken leg, Professor Handyside could not make it to celebrate what he started back in 1990 but CISoR was well represented with Professor Darren Griffin chairing a session and new honorary appointees Professors Alan Thornhill and Luca Gianaroli plus Dr Gary Harton all taking prominent roles.

Representatives of CISoR’s “PhD by distance” programme were also in attendance including Tyl Taylor, Colleen Lynch and Tiffany Stankewich. Both Colleen and Tiffany gave oral presentations with Colleen benefitting from the prize she won at the last PGDIS (free registration and an opportunity to speak) and Tiffany giving her first (and very well received) presentation in an international forum.

Many of the newest technologies in PGD were covered including next generation sequencing (NGS) and Karyomapping – the Handyside/Harton/Thornhill/Griffin (+ colleagues) approach for universal detection of genetic disease. Perhaps the most moving story of the conference was however two families who underwent the “saviour siblings” form of PGD telling their personal stories. These included the Nash family, the first family to undergo this treatment, who told how the life of their daughter Mollie (pictured front centre) was saved by stem cells from the umbilical cord of her brother Adam (right of picture). Poressor Sally Sheldon’s work helped develop some of the UK legislation for saviour siblings based on the story of the Nash family.




PGDIS president and treasurer Svetlana Rechitsky (in pink) and Darren Griffin with the Nashes, the original “Saviour Sibling” family.


CISoR is now well represented in the board of PGDIS with Alan Handyside now president-elect and Darren Griffin the treasurer of the society. Next year we move on to Bologna where our new recruit Luca Gianaroli will take the reins. In his speech to introduce the 16th PGDIS Luca presented a “survival guide to Bologna.” This principally involves being aware that Bolognaise sauce is never served with spaghetti (always tagliatelle), cappuccino should never been drunk after noon and limoncello never before 6pm.

CISoR would like to express its thanks to hosts Anver Kuliev (executive director of PGDIS) and Svetlana Rechitsky (president of PGDIS) for being such gracious hosts and making us all welcome.

Honorary appointment for Bologna Professor

Professor Luca Gianaroli has recently been appointed honorary Professor of Reproductive Medicine here at the University of Kent.

Luca is a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology and has been a pioneer of reproductive medicine since the late 1970s. He is currently Scientific Director of S.I.S.M.e.R. (Società Italiana di Studi di Medicina della Riproduzione), based in Bologna, Italy; Scientific Director of the IIARG network (International Institutes of Advanced Reproduction and Genetics), which brings together specialized centers located in various European countries. In this role he is the academic lead for all research conducted in all its laboratories and clinics. His research interests have led to co-authorship on over 250 manuscripts and 9 books and currently include:

  • The use of acupuncture for medically assisted reproduction
  • Screening of genes involved in reprograming the oocyte based on age, ovarian pathologies and fertility
  • Analysis of the chromosomes and mitochondria of human oocytes and polar bodies
  • Sperm freezing as an alternative method of conservation
  • Correlation between birefringence, DNA fragmentation and FISH of the human sperm.
  • Evaluation of free radicals in seminal liquid to assess oxidation stress.
  • Research projects on Mesenchymal stem cells

He is an active member of numerous international and national organizations where he plays an important role; he is the former President of the Italian Reproduction Society and the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).

The members of CISoR look forward to working with Luca on medical, scientific and ethical projects.


New honorary Professor

Dr Alan Thornhill, currently Associate Director of Market Development at Illumina, Inc (Reproductive and Genetic Health) has recently been appointed Honorary Professor of Reproductive Genetics. Alan has amassed an impressive list of publications and senior academic positions in industry and the clinic and he has pioneered the interface between basic research and clinical practice in reproductive medicine. His approaches have led to new developments in clinical practice e.g. in genetic diagnosis, embryo freezing, gene expression and in the regulation of IVF practice.

Alan has distinguished himself in his position as Honorary Reader here at the University since his appointment in 2008, specifically with respect to his publications in the University’s name (14 in this period), income generation, research student support and guidance (Alan has supported 8 PhD and 7 MSc students with advice, clinical samples, income and co-authored publications), representing the University at national and international conferences, international conference organization, teaching innovation (Alan contributes regularly to MSc teaching and helped develop highly regarded graduate student programmes) and internal, local and national recognition (he was a co-recipient of a University of Kent Enterprise award). Since 2009, he has been a professional member of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) – the UK’s fertility regulator and was a key partner in the initiation and development of CISoR.

Alan’s research interests lie in understanding the basic genetics of early human development and taking that knowledge through to clinical application. He is relatively unique in the field of IVF in being, first and foremost, a basic scientist, second an active IVF practitioner who has held directorial roles in leading clinics, third a prolific industrialist and product developer with a leading role in a major biotech company; and finally an active member of government regulatory bodies. In his career he has Published over 50 full length, peer-reviewed, original articles on developmental biology, assisted reproduction and reproductive genetics that seek to answer fundamental questions relevant to human development and disease. These include the levels and patterns of gene expression in human preimplantation embryos, gross genomic differences in IVF embryos and the relationship between nutrient uptake, embryo morphology and genetics. His publications also reflect his leading role with the leading worldwide and European regulatory bodies and a commitment to applying new knowledge in the clinic for patient benefit. Students benefit from his authoritative and research-embedded teaching as he brings all the aspects of his considerable experience into the classroom. Alan has presented, chaired sessions and been an invited speaker at numerous national and international conferences and he was was co-chair of the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis Society (PGDIS) meeting held here at the University of Kent. Alan has been listed in Who’s Who since 2012 and is a regular contributor to the media including: Television appearances e.g. ITV 24, ITN, Channel 5, SKY News, BBC News 24, Embarrassing Bodies (Channel 4), The 21st Century Girl’s Guide to Sex (Channel 5) and BBC 1’s The One Show. He is also a regular contributor to BioNews (run by Progress Educational Trust)

Alan is an integral part of CISoR’s future plans for research, innovation, teaching and enterprise and we are delighted for him and his family that he has received this award.


New honorary Senior Lecturer Appointment



Dr Gary Harton, currently Group Senior Vice President of Commercial Development at PROGYNY has recently been appointed as Honorary Senior Lecturer.

Gary Harton is a distinguished scientist in the field of reproductive medicine, particularly preimplantation genetic diagnosis and screening (PGD and PGS). He has helped steer a number of graduate students currently enrolled in the University to the PhD by distance program and has hence, with Professor Griffin, been a Pioneer in setting up this program. Dr Harton has worked both in diagnostic labs and in industry, is highly published in the field and brings a unique understanding of the various stages of the program and can thus help and guide students towards many career options. He has also worked with individual research students to help them progress through their graduate work.

Gary has previously held posts as Associate Director for Market Development at BlueGnome and Laboratory Director at Reprogenetics in New Jersey and the Genetics & IVF Institute in Fairfax Virginia. He has been an Associate Editor of the journal Human Reproduction and Chair of the ESHRE PGD Consortium, and “PGD Guideline” Task Force. He has published over 50 full length, peer-reviewed, original articles and five book chapters on Developmental Biology, Assisted Reproduction and Reproductive Genetics and has presented at over 100 international forums.

Gary will contribute to the MSc in Reproductive Medicine as well as help develop an international programme for PhD students studying overseas but registered in Kent.


National award for former Kent post-doc

Dr Helen Tempest, a former post-doctoral researcher in the School of Biosciences, was the runner up in the recent BritWeek awards.

BritWeek was initiated in 2007 (by Nigel Lythgoe and the then Consul General Bob Peirce) to highlight creative fusion between the UK and the USA. BritWeek’s stated mission is to generate greater awareness of the multitude of ways in which the UK and the US work closely together, and further build this relationship to advance business, the arts, and philanthropy. Every Spring, BritWeek hosts a program of events that promotes British creativity, innovation and excellence in California across multiple categories including, film & television, music, art, fashion, design, retail, sport, philanthropy, business, and science. The events attract support from thousands of people, including international celebrities as well as business and political leaders; Helen travelled to Hollywood in April to receive her award.

Helen did her BSc in Applied Biology Brunel University and, under the supervision of Professor Darren Griffin, did her PhD thesis on chromosome abnormality in human sperm. He current research focuses on the genetic aspects of infertility and toxicants in humans utilizing molecular technologies. She moved to the University of Kent in 2004 to work on avian genomics; there she became interested in combining nanotechnology with conventional genetic techniques. In 2006, she joined the University of Calgary where she investigated the effect of chemotherapy on sperm genetics, and genetic recombination. During 2008-2009 she returned to the UK to devote her efforts to genetic diagnosis of IVF embryos working at the London Bridge Centre with the world’s leading group in this area. She has published ~30 manuscripts in the top reproduction and cytogenetic journals, and was recipient of 2006 and 2007 Petro Canada Young Innovators Awards as well as the 2006 Champion Technologies Award. She has successfully raised research funding of the equivalent of over £1.6 million and is currently Secretary General of the International Chromosome and Genome Society. In 2009 she was appointed to the Faculty as Assistant Professor at Florida International University (FIU) and established a reference reproductive genetics laboratory that became a pivotal component of joint efforts between the College of Medicine and College of Engineering to develop novel, robust, and sensitive methods for monitoring exposure to chemical toxins. She has also pioneered teaching programs for medical students at FIU and has been session chair and invited speaker at numerous international conferences.

Dr Tempest also gives regular, enthusiastically received “general science talks” to the public, medics and schools including: “Genome Sequencing: The Dawn of Personalized Medicine” “Semen assessments: are there better ways to predict male fertility?” “The Genetic basis of Male Infertility” and “To Err Meiotically is Human”. In 2007 she was Invited to present and participate in the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. A Workshop for High school Science Teachers and students to experience hands-on research and learn about the latest developments in healthcare

Her work on Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis has benefitted hundreds of couples seeking to avoid having children with gross genetic abnormalities while her work on biosensors capable of detecting unspecified DNA damage by exposure to genotoxic agents has benefitted military personnel in the US.

Helen said “I am honoured to receive a BritWeek Innovation in Academia Award. It is especially rewarding that my scientific and educational contribution have been recognized by my peers. Pursuing research and educating future physicians in the rapidly evolving field of medical genetics has been, and continues to be extremely rewarding career.”

In choosing her for the award in the category of science and technology, BritWeek noted that Helen’s professional accomplishments “have made a lasting impact in the field of higher education [and] have earned the respect and admiration of [her] professional colleagues.”

The award ceremony took place April 30 in Los Angeles and was presented by Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent.


Tempest Tempest1

Public engagement funding

CISoR members have been successful in winning two Public Engagement with Research Fund grants. The first initiative (Lab rejects) will be headed by Dan Lloyd and the second (Café Scientifique: Science, Law and Bioethics – Unmasked) by Pamela White

Lab rejects (Dan Lloyd, Rebekah Higgitt, Darren Griffin)

As technologies advance, once-valuable equipment becomes redundant. The fast-evolving nature of biological research means that once essential equipment begins to gather dust as newer models emerge. And yet this equipment can reveal so much about the culture of research, the contribution of technology to knowledge and training, and the rapid evolution of the “state-of-the-art”, while providing insight into world-leading biological research at Kent. Lab Rejects is stimulated by a recent collaborative project with the School of History, entitled Chain Reaction!, which used interdisciplinary approaches to explore biological technologies. This extended art-science residency in the School of Biosciences culminated in an exhibition in the Sidney Cooper Gallery marking the 30th anniversary of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). The success of this event, based on a rather humble and unassuming piece of machinery, illustrated how technological resources within the School of Biosciences can be harnessed for public engagement and informal learning, particularly when viewed from different disciplines and perspectives. Lab Rejects will build upon this approach to engage the public and encourage informal learning, through an exhibition of decommissioned research equipment. The aim of the exhibition will be to explore the evolution “state-of-the-art” technologies within the biological sciences by interrogating specific artifacts that form part of a collection anchored within a specific biological research context. It is hoped that the exhibition will form a blueprint that would leave a legacy for future use of the equipment archive in different research contexts and venues,

Café Scientifique: Science, Law and Bioethics – Unmasked (Pamela White, Sally Sheldon, Ellie Lee, Darren Griffin)

Café Scientifique seeks to democratize academic research by taking it out of the domain of the expert and enabling everyone to voice an opinion. A Café Scientifique pulls scholarly academic research away from its usual habitats of the classroom and the laboratory and into pubs, bars, and restaurants, demystifying new developments and opening them up for public debate. This new set of 6 Cafés will provide an opportunity to bring together researchers and members of the public to spark a discussion about some of the most interesting, and sometimes contentious, research currently underway at the University of Kent in genetics, reproduction and the family. The aim in hosting the proposed series of 6 Cafés is to inform, interest and engage people outside of the university in the research being undertaken by Kent staff and students. The Cafés will appeal to those interested in the social, legal and bioethical implications of reproductive science, but who generally don’t have the opportunity to discuss their views with and to ask questions of lawyers, social scientists, bioethicists and geneticists. By holding the Cafés in a an off-campus location (at Ye Olde Beverlie) and featuring a sustained program of research on topics of high social importance we plan to break down barriers between the university and the community, foster idea exchange and enable both groups to contribute to learning and knowledge sharing.

Tentative programme (subject to change)

  1. October 13, 2015. Designer babies – one step further on the slippery slope?’   Professor Darren Griffin (School of Biosciences), Professor Simon Kirchin (Philosophy). Moderator, Professor Sally Sheldon (KLS).
  2. November 10, 2015. ‘Reproductive labours: surrogacy, egg sharing and reproduction in the 21st century?’ Kirsty Horsey, Katia Neofytou. Moderator Dr. Karen Devine (KLS).
  3. December 08, 2015: ‘Maintaining the reproductive edge: Should UK companies pay for employee social egg freezing?’  Antony Blackburn-Starza (KLS), Dr. Emily Grabben (KLS), Bridge Fertility Clinic physician. Moderator, Dr. Pamela White (KLS).
  4. February 9, 2016. “Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and vaccination behaviour’, Karen Douglas, Moderator Professor Robbie Sutton (Psychology).
  5. March 8, 2016. ‘Should the state define what makes a good parent? Ellie Lee (SPSSR), Moderator Dr. Ruth Cain (KLS).
  6. April 12, 2016 ‘Learning about stress from our early ancestors’, Sarah Johns (Anthropology), Moderator Darren Griffin.




Making Bacon

The unusually named “Pig Breeders’ Round Table” (PBRT) was held at the University of Kent in April 2015 bringing together industrialists, scientists, students and farmers in a unique setting.

Despite the images that the title of this forum might conjure up, PBRT is a long standing, high quality scientific meeting that has built up an enviable reputation as one of the best international conferences in livestock genetics. Established as an influential industry and research discussion group in 1964, PBRT regularly discusses pig breeding, embryo technology, new genes affecting meat quality, infertility and the latest in modern genomics.

PBRT has, from its outset, been a small, friendly bi-annual meeting with interesting science and stimulating discussion. For the first 40+ years of its life finding a home at Wye College, it moved “up the road” in 2008 to the University of Kent under the chairmanship of Darren Griffin. This year’s programme included gems such as “Testicle size in relation to male fertility”; “Genomics of teat number”; “The genetics of maternal aggression” and the, now traditional, “Pig genome sequence update” delivered by Professor Alan Archibald of the Roslin Institute

The meeting provided an excellent opportunity to present and discuss new results with an informed and interested audience and University of Kent members, past and present were well represented. These included Dr Peter Ellis (new lecturer in the School of Biosciences), Dr Ben Skinner (Kent PhD 2009, now at the University of Cambridge) and Dr Katie Fowler (Kent PhD 2012, now lecturer at Canterbury Christchurch University).

Delegates from the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Canada (amongst others) were well treated by the Kent Hospitality staff in Keynes College and completed proceedings at the Hotel Continental in Whitstable for Oysters and Fish and Chips (anything but pork!) and one of the best sunsets that the Kent coast had to offer.