A new research project at the University of Newcastle is looking at ways to improve the fertility of older women.
Figures released in December 2008 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show the average age of mothers giving birth in Australia is just under 30 years, with 21 per cent of mothers aged 35 or over in 2006.
Associate Professor Eileen McLaughlin from the University's Faculty of Science and Information Technology has received $400,000 from the National Health and Medical Research Council. She will investigate the healthy development of the female egg cell, called an oocyte, involved in reproduction.
"Women are born with all of the oocytes they will ever carry, and the number and quality decline as a woman ages," Associate Professor McLaughlin explained.
"Unhealthy egg development can lead to infertility, miscarriage and congenital abnormalities.
Using a combination of novel genetic tools and live cell imaging we will research the key cellular signalling pathways controlling the production of healthy and chromosomally-balanced oocytes.
Targeting key proteins in oocyte development may lead to the discovery of new strategies for selecting good eggs in assisted reproductive technology or even repairing damaged eggs."
Professor McLaughlin is conducting the research at the University's Priority Research Centre (PRC) for Reproductive Science, in collaboration with Dr Gary Hime at the University of Melbourne.
The research will build on the PRC's current investigations into the impact of environmental chemicals on female fertility.
The University of Newcastle is internationally recognised for its contribution to studies of human fertility and pregnancy. Under the direction of Laureate Professor John Aitken, a world-leader in male infertility, the PRC is addressing one of the Australian Government's important national research priorities, 'A Healthy Start to Life'.
The Priority Research Centre for Reproductive Science conducts research in collaboration with the Hunter Medical Research Institute's Pregnancy and Reproduction Research Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.