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$2.8-million nationwide program aims to improve infertility treatments

OTTAWA (March 3, 2003) - The largest Canadian research collaboration ever to tackle the problem of human egg health has just been launched, thanks to a $2.8 million, five-year grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Led by Program Director Dr. Jay Baltz, Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Ottawa, the Program on Oocyte Health will involve 15 prominent investigators in Canada working in human reproduction. Nine of the 15 principal investigators are in Ottawa.

Advances in assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are bringing new hope to the estimated one in six couples in Canada facing infertility. But one of the major barriers to improved success rates is that too many "oocytes", or eggs retrieved for fertilization are unhealthy, and there is no good way to identify the healthy ones.

Researchers with the Program on Ooctye Health will investigate how a healthy human egg grows in the ovary, and what can go wrong during oocyte development. Researchers will explore the effects on pregnancy and the long-term health of the baby when eggs are manipulated early during development - information that will provide the first data on the safety of ART techniques for Canadians. In addition, researchers will search for markers or traits to help doctors distinguish healthy eggs from unhealthy ones, using minimally invasive techniques.

During in vitro fertilization, eggs are removed from a woman and fertilized with sperm in a laboratory. The resulting embryos are then grown in an incubator for a few days before they are transferred to the mother.

Despite great progress in treatment, the quality of most of the human eggs retrieved for fertilization is still surprisingly low, with only 10-20% producing a pregnancy.

It's not clear if most eggs obtained during IVF cycles are intrinsically unhealthy, or if they become unhealthy during laboratory manipulations, explains Dr. Baltz. "In either case, it is vital to understand how a healthy ooctye develops, and what can happen that impairs its viability."

Dr. Ronald Worton, OHRI CEO and Scientific Director, and VP, Research of the Ottawa Hospital, expressed his delight "that this innovative, multi-centre research, designed to identify the best oocytes for fertilization and implantation, is being led by a scientist from this Institute, reflecting the emphasis on high quality infertility research in this Institute."

The grant is part of a five-year, $8.4 million Strategic Initiative of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health. This initiative is aimed at improving sperm, eggs and embryos to better treat infertility.

The Program on Oocyte Health will involve five collaborative projects led by investigators from the OHRI, the University of Ottawa, McGill University and Université Laval.

The five projects range in scope from basic research through clinical research and to population health research on the long-term consequences of impaired oocyte health.

"Ottawa's becoming an international centre for the study of reproduction and reproductive health, and this is a major step forward in that process," says Dr. Peter Walker, Dean of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine.

The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The OHRI is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital, and a major part of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine and Faculty of Health Sciences. With over 100 scientists, 225 students and 400 support staff, and $34 million in external funding, the OHRI is one of the fastest growing, and most respected hospital-based research institutes in Canada.

Media contacts:

Sharon Kirkey
Communications Officer
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Bob LeDrew
Public Affairs
University of Ottawa
613-562-5800 ext. 3154

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