Embryos and epigenetics

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.



About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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2 Responses to Embryos and epigenetics

  1. Adam says:

    Anyone wanting to learn about epigenetics, from validated scientists (as opposed to from lay posters who often have no idea what they are talking about), should go to the University of Utah Epigenetics Learning site: http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/ . It was recommended by a participant at a recent INUK fertility support meeting. With easy to read graphics, flash demonstrations, and words, it is very easy to understand. It is not a site about donor conception, but about epigenetics in general, from scientists. You learn that yes, potentially many factors can ‘switch’ genes on or off or up and down; but other factors in life (diet, pollution, stress, etc) can also switch many of these same genes around.

  2. oliviasview says:

    Thanks for this Adam. It’s a really good resource. As you say, so much is posted on this topic that is uninformed and inaccurate. I `always try to check out what I say on this topic with Progress Educational Trust, people who do know what they are talking about.

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