There is what I hope will be a truly fascinating conference taking place at the Institute of Child Health in London on Wednesday this week, 23rd November. It is being run by Progress Educational Trust and has the title The Best Possible Start in Life: the Robust and Responsive Embryo. Here is part of the blurb –
Until the 1978 birth of Louise Brown, the first person to be born following IVF, there was considerable scepticism not only about whether fertilisation could occur in vitro, but also about whether a human embryo could successfully be cultured in the laboratory before being transferred to the mother’s uterus. That the embryo can survive in a synthetic culture system testifies to a remarkable robustness. But paradoxically, while the embryo is robust it is also responsive. Advances in fields including embryology, genetics and now epigenetics continue to reveal myriad ways in which the circumstances of the embryo’s early development influence not only the likelihood of successful pregnancy and birth, but also the development and health of the resulting child.
So for anyone who has had a pregnancy, whether successful or not, by IVF or has a child in the family conceived in this way, as our grand-daughter was, there will hopefully be a wealth of information, right at the cutting edge of this still emerging science.
Epigenetics is something that particularly grips women needing to use a donor egg for family addition or creation. The idea that a woman’s body may be able to change the functions of some of the genes inherited from the donor is a powerful one. I am very much hoping that one of the speakers will be able to explain, for those of us who are real beginners in understanding modern genetics, exactly what is meant by gene function and how the environment of the womb might have an impact on the genetic blueprint carried by a developing embryo and foetus. I will certainly be asking this question if it is not addressed directly.
One of the great things about PET events is that they limit the time speakers have to explain themselves and they insist that presentations are in language that lay people have half a chance of understanding. The majority of the time is spent in dialogue between speakers and the audience.
If you have a free Wednesday, sign up and come along. If not, look out for the conference report on the PET website…and don’t forget to sign up for weekly Bio-News, unmissable reading for those interested or involved in assisted reproduction, embryo research and genetics.