Fertility 2023 was recently held at the ICC, Belfast (Jan 10th -13th). This annual conference, jointly hosted by the Association of Reproductive & Clinical Scientists (ARCS), the British Fertility Society (BFS) and the Society for Reproduction and Fertility (SRF), gives fertility researchers and practitioners alike an opportunity to progress their training, discuss their research and to hear about new, cutting-edge technologies in the field of reproductive medicine. It is also a time to meet with colleagues and forge new collaborations, as we strive to learn from shared experiences and to constantly improve the standard of care for our patients.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Reproduction in an Ageing World’, a reflection not only on the increasing trend of delayed parenthood and reduced fertility rates, but also on the societal, environmental and medical factors that converge to influence this.
Dr Laurentina Schaler, Prof Mary Wingfield, Dr David Crosby, Prof Cathy Allen, Dr Lucia Hartigan, Dr Nita Adnan and Dr Niamh Fee.
Merrion Fertility Clinic (MFC) were fortunate to have many of our multi-disciplinary team at the conference, with members from each department in attendance throughout the week. The MFC research team was especially well represented, with six presentations from our current and previous clinical research fellows and students. Two members of our research team, Clinical Fellow Dr Laurentina Schaler and Aspire Clinical Fellow Dr Sorca O’Brien were both shortlisted for the prestigious BFS Early Career Clinician award, while TCD & MFC researcher Dr Federica Giangrazi was also shortlisted for the BFS Young Scientist award.
Doctors Maebh Horan and Rachel Elebert were each chosen to present a poster of their fellowship research projects, while Dr Andrew Downey was selected to give an overview of his work in a rapid-fire oral poster presentation. In recognition of her patient advocacy work on fertility funding and regulation, Prof Mary Wingfield (former Clinical Director) was invited to give a talk on Ireland’s long road to assisted human reproduction (AHR) legislation, a timely discussion given that an AHR bill is currently being debated in Dáil Eireann.
Clinic Embryologists, Rebeca Bravo Martín and Lydia O'Hara
Dr Tariq Bholah and Prof Cathy Allen
As we now reflect on this outstanding meeting and what we learned from the wide-ranging topics discussed and debated, we are encouraged that the MFC research program is so strongly aligned with current and future goals of the international fertility community. Several of the conference talks highlighted the rapid technological advances being made in the clinical IVF lab, with the advent of improved testing for embryo and uterine lining (endometrial) quality, and with automation and AI technologies on the horizon.
Dr Elebert’s and Dr Downey’s work on embryo development and endometrial assessment, respectively, expands on our understanding of how these advances can be best applied to improve live birth outcomes for our patients. Moreover, the ever-evolving scientific and clinical developments makes legislating for AHR in Ireland a complex challenge, as noted by Dr Sorca O’Brien and Prof Mary Wingfield in their talks.
Discussions around environmental influences on fertility and treatment access included the enormous impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic, a focus of Dr Schaler’s talk, as well as the increasingly recognized role of bacterial flora in early pregnancy, as discussed by Dr Giangrazi.
Dr Andrew Downey, Dr Louise Glover, PhD, Dr Sorca O'Brien, Leonie Conroy (Fertility Midwife), Dr Federica Giangrazi, PhD
Lastly, we heard moving testimonials on the harrowing impact of cancer treatment-induced infertility in young people with cancer, and just how transformative fertility preservation can be for their long-term quality of life. As part of our collaboration with the Irish Cancer Society, the Merrion Fertility Clinic Childhood Cancer Fertility Project has given young people affected by cancer the opportunity to protect their future fertility, the subject of a poster by Dr Maebh Horan.
Talks, Presentations & Posters
Prof Mary Wingfield: AHR Legislation: a long and winding road (Invited Talk)
Prof Wingfield was invited to discuss the history of drafting AHR legislation in Ireland, a journey which began 20 years ago. Prof Wingfield, who chairs the AHR Professionals group, has worked tirelessly throughout this time to advocate for patients and inform policy makers in order to help shape a national AHR legislation that works for all.
Prof Mary Wingfield
Dr Sorca O’Brien: Draft AHR Legislation: listening to the voice of patients (BFS Early Career Clinician Award: shortlisted)
Dr O’Brien performed a survey study among fertility patients to determine their views on the proposed Irish Health AHR Bill 2022.
This study will help inform the national legislation as it nears completion.
Dr Laurentina Schaler
Dr Sorca O'Brien
Dr Laurentina Schaler: Male Fertility - Impact of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines (BFS Early Career Clinician Award: shortlisted)
Dr Schaler’s study investigated the impact of the initial COVID-19 vaccine regimen on sperm parameters and markers of inflammation in men. This study, carried out with TCD, showed no overall change in sperm parameters and mild changes in inflammation that resolved within 70-90 days.
Dr Rachel Elebert: A retrospective review of oocytes containing Smooth Endoplasmic Reticulum (SER) aggregates.
Dr Elebert presented her work on SERs, small organelle clusters seem in 10% of IVF/ICSI cycles.
Her work showed that SER positive cycles have similar outcomes to the general population.
Dr Rachel Elebert
Dr Andrew Downey
Dr Andrew Downey: Benefit of Endometrial Receptivity Array in a highly selected patient population (rapid-fire poster presentation)
Dr Downey’s talk discussed pregnancy outcomes in women who had two failed frozen embryo transfer cycles, followed by a personalized timed embryo transfer after endometrial receptivity array (ERA) testing.
Dr Maebh Horan: A 2 year follow-up study of ovarian reserve in female survivors of childhood cancer
Dr Horan presented her study of female survivors of childhood/adolescent cancer who attended MFC for fertility assessment and egg freezing. This service is made possible by generous funding from the Irish Cancer Society, as part of the Childhood Cancer Fertility Project.
We are so proud of our team for their excellent presentations, for their unwavering dedication to patient-centred research, and for representing Merrion Fertility Clinic on the international research stage.
Looking forward to Fertility 2024!