Research interests, current research projects and external grants.
The developing human testis in relation to fertility preservation, disorders of sexual development (DSD) and testicular cancer.
My research interests include fertility preservation in the pre-pubertal testis and this focuses on developing strategies for removing and storing testis tissue from patients prior to potentially sterilizing treatments in order that germ cell development can be achieved using in-vitro or in-vivo techniques. We have recently become the first UK centre to establish a fertility preservation programme to store testicular tissue from young cancer patients prior to their treatment. This programme in males, combined with our well-established fertility preservation programme for females, has resulted in the establishment of a collaboration of scientists and clinicians working as part of the 'Edinburgh Fertility Preservation’ programme of which I am the lead for male fertility preservation. This unique collaboration combines clinical and laboratory research aimed at optimising fertility for children and young adults with cancer. We are also a full partner in the EU funded FP7 Marie Curie ITN entitled 'GROWSPERM' aimed at co-ordinating research into male fertility preservation for boys with cancer. We also receive funding for our male fertility preservation work from Children with Cancer UK.
My research group also focus is on fetal development of the testis and particularly that of germ cells in relation to the origins of testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is thought to result from disrupted development of germ cells during fetal life which results in pre-malignant germ cell neoplasia in situ(GCNIS) cells. The precise mechanisms of how this occurs are unknown. Understanding the origins of testicular cancer and developing fertility preservation strategies require further understanding of the germ stem cell niche and we hope that by using the models described above that we will learn more about the interactions between germ cells and their surrounding cells during testis development. Our research in this area has recently demonstrated the relationship between the stage of germ cell development and its relationship to invasive potential in testicular cancer.
Fetal testis development may potentially be disrupted by environmental ‘endocrine disruptors’ and genetic factors and may increase the risk of developing testicular cancer. These factors are being investigated using a variety of animal and human models of testis development. Our recent research in this area has demonstrated that paracetamol (acetaminophen) exposure can reduce testosterone production in the human fetal testis.