Understanding how a fertilized oocyte develops into a viable embryo, and then goes onto become a healthy individual has been my lifetime interest. I completed my BSc (Hons) and my PhD, under the supervision of Henry Leese, at the University of York in the UK. Following a Fellowship at Harvard Medical School, in the laboratory of John Biggers, I moved to Monash Medical Centre to work with Alan Trounson. My work focused on the metabolism and physiology of the preimplantation mammalian embryo, which led to the development of culture systems capable of supporting the embryos of several mammalian species including the human, mouse, cow and sheep. This work also laid the foundations for the generation of the world’s first human embryonic stem cells. In 1997 I moved back to the USA to become the Scientific Director of the Colorado Centre for Reproductive Medicine, where I was able to undertake translational research and further develop our understanding of early human development. In 2007 I returned to Australia to take up the position of Chair of Zoology and have been the Head of Department since 2009.
Research in the Reproductive Biology and Assisted Conception Laboratory is focussed on several key aspects of embryo and stem cell development. Historically, improvements in the fields of embryo culture and cryobiology, have come from empirical studies in which one or more factors are changed and a morphological parameter, such as growth or survival, are measured. In contrast, the broad thrust of our laboratory has been improvements of techniques associated with reproductive biology through basic research at the cellular level. Analysis of embryo metabolism, through non-invasive ultramicrofluorescence and several metabolomics platforms has been achieved leading to the development of markers for gamete and embryo viability. Using gene array technology and real time PCR, we have begun to analyse the factors that not only affect gene expression during oogenesis and embryogenesis, but those factors associated with epigenetic modifications. Current studies include the effects of diet on gamete and embryo function, the impact of environmental toxicants on epigenetic stability, energy sensing in embryos and stem cells, the use of assisted conception in conservation, the regulation of embryonic diapause, and the development of embryo diagnostics for use in human IVF.