Monthly Archives: January 2016

Global reduction in fertility – What’s going on?

In two upcoming papers Oskar Burger and colleagues are furthering our understanding of fertility behaviour, how it changes, and what it might do in the future. Both papers address the theme of the the historical reduction in the number of births per woman (so called “demographic transition”).  This began in 19th Century England and is ongoing worldwide.

In the first paper, Oskar and Daniel Hruschka of Arizona State University examine how the variation in fertility changes during a general overall decline. Many investigations have looked at changes in the average fertility behaviour, and have usually focused on national or county-level data. Hruschka and Burger however analyse individual-level data from the Demographic and Health Survey, looking at fertility data on women from 92 low- and middle- income countries. They show that a great deal of the variation among individuals is due to chance  rather than to measurable individual differences. This means that chance might have more to do with fertility outcomes than characteristics such as education or wealth.

In the second paper, Oskar and John DeLong of the University of Nebraska, address the pressing topic of projecting population sizes of the future. They specifically question a common assumption that once a population begins the fertility decline, that the process is irreversible. This assumption is based on basic observations of population history, but Burger and DeLong point out that such an assumption is suspect from an evolutionary point of view. They provide five propositions based on evolutionary and ecological principles that suggest fertility might increase in the future. The five propositions are based on the following: 1) genetic change occurring from natural selection; 2) the difficulty of maintaining cultural norms that are at odds with evolutionary pressure, especially across an uncertain and complex future; 3) the adjustments of institutions that lower the costs of childbearing; 4) the influence of wealth inequality on both culture and the distribution of energy; and 5) the problem of meeting the escalating demands of a growing modernized and affluent population.

The many births of the test-tube baby

Dr Nick Hopwood, University of Cambridge

Sponsored by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Reproduction (CISoR) and The Centre for the History of the Sciences 

Wednesday 2nd March 2015, 5.15pm

Templeman Lecture Theatre

Born following in vitro fertilization in Oldham in 1978, Louise Brown made global news as the first ‘test-tube baby’. Yet since the 1940s various researchers had already reported having fertilized human eggs to produce embryos and even infants. The lecture will ask how they pressed these claims and how their colleagues assessed and contested them. The answer will pay special attention to the negotiation of standard criteria in journals, textbooks and newspapers, at conferences and on television. The result will be fresh perspectives on a founding achievement of reproductive biomedicine and on communication in science after World War II.

Many Births of the Test-Tube Baby - Nick Hopwood

From Bench to Bedside in Reproductive Genetics

A recently awarded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project is already delivering exciting results. The 30 month project recently established between Professor of Genetics, Darren Griffin, at the School of Biosciences and the London Women’s Clinic (LWC) will enable the Clinic to screen for couples at risk of transmitting chromosome abnormalities in human embryos. Professor Griffin and Professor Alan Handyside at The Bridge Centre, now part of LWC, jointly developed a universal means of detecting any genetic disease in an IVF embryo in 2010. The process was called ‘Karyomapping’ and will form part of the project.

LWC is one of the leading centres for infertility treatment and women’s health services in Britain. The clinic is based in Harley Street, London and has a number of satellite clinics around the country including one recently opened in Canterbury in December of last year. The Associate, Dr Becki Gould, a recent PhD graduate of Professor Griffin’s lab is responsible for delivering the KTP project on a day-to-day basis. She will take on the temporary role of an andrologist at the Canterbury clinic providing valuable new knowledge to the team. She will also be Patient Coordinator for the new “One by One Plus” programme that aims to reduce the cost of IVF while improving its success rate through genetic screening. Much of the groundwork has already been done, in part through Becki’s efforts, and LWC announced the launch of the programme at a meeting in London last week.

Knowledge transferred through this project will enable the highest quality of genetic diagnosis and screening and Becki is looking forward to playing an integral role in the Clinic under the guidance and support of Professors Griffin, Handyside and the LWC team.

LWC Jan 16

From left to right, Dr Christian Ottolini (Company Supervisor and recent PhD graduate of Prof Griffin’s lab); Dr Kamal Ahuja (Scientific and Managing Director of LWC); Dr Becki Gould (KTP Associate); Prof Darren Griffin; Eddie Kuan (Special Projects Manager at LWC); Clare Witcher (Knowledge Transfer Officer, University of Kent).

Professor Sally Sheldon awarded £0.5m for biographical study of Abortion Act

Professor of Law, Sally Sheldon has been awarded more than £0.5m to conduct a unique two-year biographical study of the Abortion Act.

Sally S

The grant of £512,000 has been awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to Professor Sheldon for a research project called ‘The Abortion Act (1967): a Biography’. The project will begin in May 2016 and its findings will be launched at the Houses of Parliament on 27 April 2018, the fiftieth anniversary of the Abortion Act coming into force.

Professor Sheldon said: ‘This project offers a historical study and biography of the Abortion Act, taking seriously the idea of ‘living law’: law exists only in its interpretation and while the text of the Abortion Act has changed little since 1967, its interpretation has evolved significantly.’

The project will draw on extensive archival research (some of which has only recently come into the public domain), around 20 interviews with people who have extensive experience of working with the Act, and library research.

The project has two methodologically innovative features; the application of biographical methodologies to the study of statute; and the application of comparative methodologies to the study of the same law as interpreted within the countries that make up the UK.

Professor Sheldon will be working with Dr Gayle Davis (Co-Investigator), a senior lecturer in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Edinburgh. The team also includes two postdoctoral researchers; Jane O’Neill, who is currently finishing a PhD at Edinburgh and the second, yet to be appointed, will be based at Kent (apply online by 7 February 2016).

Intended project outcomes include a book; a range of academic articles in law, history, sociology and gender studies journals; a series of shorter papers for practitioner journals; at least nine conference papers; teaching packs for schools; and active dissemination of research via the media and social networking sites.

A project website will be a key reference point which will provide copies of all publications, further reading, links to further resources, and a special section with resources for schools. The website will also host an engaging online exhibition, accessible to a wide audience and bringing together key findings, extracts from the oral histories and key documents from the archives.

Professor Sheldon said: ‘The Act has clearly lived through interesting times and, in line with the best biographies, this account of its life will aim also to offer a window into the seismic broader changes that have occurred since 1967. In this sense, the story of the Abortion Act is also the story of evolving ideas of gender and family; the development of the NHS; changes to abortion technologies and the ethical values that inform modern medicine; shifting demographics, including in the religious and ethnic make-up of the UK; and the ongoing negotiation of the UK constitutional settlement.

‘My hope is that the project will offer a far more detailed understanding of the operation of the Abortion Act in historical and geographical contexts.  We also hope that a close study of the Abortion Act can offer a window into the times in which it ‘lived’.  And I would hope also to show that the use of biographical methodologies can offer something of value to other legal scholars, who work in very different areas of law and, likewise, that one can usefully apply comparative methodologies for studying how the same piece of law operates across borders within the UK.’

Professor Sheldon teaches Health Care Law and Ethics to undergraduate and postgraduate students at Kent Law School. She is a leading expert and commentator on the regulation of abortion in the UK and contributed to a discussion about the decriminalisation of abortion at the House of Commons in October 2014.  She is Deputy Director of Kent’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of Reproduction (CISOR).

Professor Sheldon has published widely in the area of health care ethics and law with books including Beyond Control: Medical Power and Abortion Law, a co-edited collection of essays on Feminist Perspectives on Health Care Law and a socio-legal study of fatherhood called Fragmenting Fatherhood, co-authored with Richard Collier of Newcastle Law School. Her current research, which centres on the legal implications of abortion pills, is supported by an AHRC fellowship.