Understanding why older women are more likely to experience embryo loss and increased rates of Down Syndrome in pregnancy is the focus of research by a leading Reproductive Biologist recently appointed to the University of Newcastle.
With couples increasingly delaying having families until their mid-to-late 30s and early 40s, Professor Keith Jones research hopes to unlock the secret behind chromosomal abnormalities in eggs that cause these pregnancy problems in older women.
Professor Jones, the University's new Chair of Human Physiology in the School of Biomedical Sciences, said the rate of chromosomal problems rises dramatically as women age.
"Data shows that around 35 percent of all pregnancies in women over 42 are from embryos containing the wrong number of chromosomes, which leads to conditions such as early spontaneous abortion and Down Syndrome. This compares to just five percent in women 10 years younger," Professor Jones said.
"Human eggs are uniquely poor in dividing their chromosomes equally and so can readily gain or lose chromosomes, a condition known as aneuploidy. I am researching why eggs can't divide their chromosomes equally. Most cells in the body do this all the time in order for us to grow, and do it successfully without error, so why should eggs be so bad at it?"
Professor Jones will build on his latest research, published in the international journal Nature Cell Biology, which uncovered a significant breakthrough in our understanding of chromosomal abnormalities in eggs.
"I identified a protein called CDH1 that acts to prevent aneuploidy in mouse eggs. This may hold the key to why older women are much more likely to experience aneuploidy, and help us find ways of stopping this occurring as women age. My research will build on the animal model findings in a human setting to try to eliminate aneuploidy in human eggs."
Professor Jones will become co-director of the University's Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science with leading reproduction experts Laureate Professor John Aitken and Professor Roger Smith. Professors Jones, Aitken and Smith work in collaboration with Hunter Medical Research Institute's (HMRI) Pregnancy and Reproduction Research Program.
HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.