Media Release: Research into building blocks of conception earns award

A University of Adelaide researcher whose studies could help infertile couples to achieve their dream of having children, as well as preventing unwanted pregnancies, will have her work highlighted with an award at a major national conference this weekend.

Dr Rebecca Robker from the University’s Robinson Research Institute has made a number of important discoveries in reproductive biology, and continues to conduct groundbreaking work into the underlying mechanisms that control ovarian function, which are critical for a healthy conception.

In simple terms, Dr Robker describes her research as looking at “how a female can get a good quality egg at the right time”.

“Obesity and age are two of the big issues in fertility. Women are more often now older and fatter when they try to conceive. This not only has implications for their chances of having a baby but also for the quality of the conception, being able to carry a child to term, and the long-term health consequences for the child,” says Dr Robker.

Having discovered an enzyme that’s important in the growth of ovarian follicles, and therefore the building blocks of female reproduction, Dr Robker is now studying the essential role of lipids in egg quality and embryo development, and the impact of high-fat diets on fertilisation.

“Research into the cellular pathways of ovarian function can be useful in different contexts. For example, anything that could improve the efficiency of assisted reproduction would be very useful. At the moment the take home baby rate from IVF is about 20%, so it could take five tries or more to achieve success.

“On the other hand, globally there are many women getting pregnant when they don’t want to be. We need to better understand the proper functioning of the ovary and its environment,” Dr Robker says.

Dr Robker’s research has been so instrumental in the field of reproductive biology that three of her more than 60 publications – in Nature, PNAS and Molecular Endocrinology – have been cited a total of almost 1,000 times between them.

This Sunday 24 August, Dr Robker will receive the Society for Reproductive Biology’s Robinson Research Institute Award for Excellence in Research, for an outstanding researcher who has been in the field for less than 15 years. As part of the award, Dr Robker will present her work in Melbourne on the first day of a joint conference of the Endocrine Society of Australia and the Society for Reproductive Biology (24-27 August).

Dr Robker’s work is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Career Development Fellowship and NHMRC Project Grants.

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