Epigenetics and bioethics of human embryonic development

The convergence environment wants to understand the epigenetic reprogramming of early embryo development and its significance for human reproduction both scientifically and ethically. An overarching theme will be the understanding of epigenetic information in the passing of life from one generation of humans to the next.

Consortium (from left to right)
Arne Klungland, Professor II, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Clinic for Laboratory Medicine (KLM), Oslo University Hospital (OUS) (leader)
Anna Smajdor, Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, Faculty of Humanities
Péter Fedorcsák, Professor 2, Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and  Department of Reproductive Medicine, OUS
Gareth D. Greggains, Researcher, Department of Reproductive Medicine, OUS
Kari Nyheim Solbrække, Professor, Institute of Health and Society, Faculty of Medicine
John Arne Dahl, PhD, Clinic for Laboratory Medicine (KLM), OUS

Objectives

Primary objectives

The main purpose of this project is to understand the epigenetic reprogramming of early embryo development and its significance for human reproduction both scientifically and ethically.

Secondary objectives

Develop novel technology to improve the outcome of in vitro fertilization treatment, live birth rate, and health of children born after treatment.

Advance our understanding of the conceptual links between research and clinical need in this area; to evaluate the ethical significance of the increasing ability to select between embryos.

Summary

Extensive epigenetic reprogramming of the genome is required in the fertilized egg and the pre-implantation embryo for the transition of life from one generation to the next.

Assisted reproduction treatment (ART) implies an extraordinary change in the environment of the pre-implantation embryo. In this context, early embryos must complete several rounds of error-prone cell division, and activate the newly constituted genome.

Women typically have multiple fertilized eggs available for embryo transfer and cryopreservation and embryo selection has traditionally relied on morphological assessment at a few fixed time points during early development. There is, therefore, a pressing need for better tools for embryo selection as well as new therapeutic avenues for improving developmental competence of early embryos. In addition, the health of a resulting child can be influenced by aneuploidy and epigenetic changes.

Here, we suggest improving the assessment of pre-implantation embryos by epigenetic characterization, based on our recent discovery of key epigenetic regulators of maternal to zygotic transition (MZT) in mice. We also address concerns over the health of children born after ART, in part due to prolonged culture of embryos in vitro, which may interfere with the MZT. These approaches must be consolidated with ethical concerns over the moral status of the human preimplantation embryo.

A novel feature of this project will be the development of an ethnomethodology designed to elicit and evaluate the scientific and ethical goals of the research. This will be based on an integration of PIs’ and students’ work from basic research, clinical research and bioethics.

Through the development and application of this methodology, the societal and ethical aspects of the research will be explored, and the findings will feed back directly into the structure and management of the scientific work.

An overarching theme will be the understanding of epigenetic information in the passing of life from one generation of humans to the next.

Other important collaborators

  • Bing Ren, University of California San Diego, Professor; expert on epigenomics
  • Chuan He, University of Chicago, Professor; expert on epigenetics and epitranscriptomics
  • Herman Cappelen, UiO; Professor; Director of ConceptLab
Published June 26, 2017 2:25 PM - Last modified July 2, 2018 11:35 AM