Playing a vital role in improving reproduction

Until a couple of decades ago, the brain was thought to be the most important organ in reproduction, but Victoria University of Wellington researchers have discovered that the egg plays the most vital role in this process.

Research by Dr Janet Pitman, from the School of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Fertility Associates, New Zealand’s leading provider of fertility treatments, is investigating the pathways between eggs and their associated cells, which can provide predictive value for the quality of an egg.

“The egg produces growth factors that regulate the other cells in the ovarian follicle,” explains Dr Pitman, an expert in the field of reproduction. “These cells have two very important roles.

“Those that are closely associated with the egg, nurture it and provide it with nutrients that develop and mature the egg and allow it to become an embryo.

“The other cells that are further away from the egg, but within the follicle, produce hormones that feed into the blood system that travel to the brain and regulate those reproductive hormones that are released from the brain.”

Dr Pitman’s research improves the predictability of which eggs produced by women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are most likely to lead to a successful pregnancy.

It also has implications for the dairy industry. “Surprisingly, dairy cows are quite infertile and their fertility is declining. They are put under huge nutritional stress, which has an impact on the quality of their eggs,” says Dr Pitman.

Her research provides tools to assess what stresses lead to a poor quality egg, information that could be used to find nutritional substitutes, or supplements, to improve egg quality.

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