Latest Articles

Could chlamydia be a silent cause of infertility in men?

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in Australia, however many people who have been exposed to the virus will have no symptoms and will be unaware of their infection. Chlamydia infection in women is linked to infertility, but whether chlamydia causes infertility in men is unknown.

Researchers in Australia have now found active chlamydia infection shows a surprisingly high prevalence in testis biopsies from infertile men. Although this research cannot reveal a causal link between chlamydia infection and human male infertility, studies in mice suggest that chlamydia infection in the testis can directly impair sperm production.

More research is urgently needed to establish whether chlamydia is a potentially preventable cause of human male infertility.

How contraception could improve human welfare, the environment and the climate

A commentary from US scientists entitled Climate Change and Contraception is a timely reminder of how research in reproduction could have wide-ranging implications for our planet and for our ability to tackle climate change.

The article, published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, highlights the urgent need for other approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and one approach that has been “largely overlooked by the international climate community” is contraception.

Because population growth is a key driver of climate change, the authors argue that improving universal access to contraception in both men and women would reduce millions of unintended pregnancies and births, increase the ability of couples to plan their families and slow population growth. And slower population growth in the future could lead to significant reductions in global emissions.

To achieve this, the authors argue that there needs to be more investment in family planning programmes in developing countries, wider distribution of contraceptives already on the market, and more research and development of improved and/or novel contraceptives in both men and women.

The authors conclude that improved access to contraception worldwide “would have a profound positive impact on human welfare, the climate and the environment”.

Read the commentary here

Australian researchers develop evidence-based online tool to support breastfeeding

Lactation is the final phase of the reproductive cycle. While 96% of Australian women initiate breastfeeding, most are unable to sustain it for the minimum recommended duration.

Women often receive conflicting advice that can have a negative impact on their ability to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. Therefore, an important strategy to improve lactation rates is the education of health professionals so that they can better support women during breastfeeding.

Australian scientists have now developed the online tool LactaMap to deliver evidence-based support to doctors and other healthcare professionals. This enables breastfeeding women to have access to consistent and high-quality advice during an important period in their baby’s development.  

Medical practitioners utilise LactaMap’s clinical practice guidelines to develop a personal care plan for their patient. LactaMap can be accessed for free by medical practitioners as well as the general public.

Read more here

How reproductive technologies are being harnessed to produce “ethical eggs”

Every year, approximately 7 billion male chickens are slaughtered when they are a day old. Apart from obviously not being able to produce eggs, male chickens grow too slowly to be used for meat production. After they hatch, males are manually identified and destined for slaughter.

But now new reproductive technologies are focussing on identifying male-bearing eggs soon after fertilisation. Different technologies being developed around the world, including Australia, can detect male-bearing eggs well before they hatch. Instead of hatching, these eggs can be frozen before a mature chick develops and can then be sold for use in other industries.

This is an amazing example of how reproductive technology can be harnessed for ethical agriculture practice and to improve economic outcomes. Read more here.

Could a supplement improve IVF success rates in older women?

As women age, the number and quality of their eggs (oocytes) rapidly declines. Poorer oocyte quality is a major factor in lower IVF success rates in older women. However, Australian scientists have discovered that a dietary supplement improves oocyte quality, embryo development and fertility outcomes in ageing female mice.

This research has been published online  and, although it has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is generating a lot of interest amongst reproductive scientists.

Stay tuned for updates…

Warnings on the use of “alternative” hormone replacement therapies

Australian experts have warned of the potential dangers of bioidentical hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms in women. These therapies are derived from plant-based hormones and are marketed to patients as natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However experts are concerned that these therapies are ineffective, costly, and could put women at risk of cancer.

Many women continue to seek alternative treatments such as bioidentical and natural therapies due to concerns raised over the safety of conventional HRT. These alternative treatments have not been  thoroughly researched, yet extensive research has shown that HRT can be safely used by women in their 50s to treat menopausal symptoms. 

Still, alternative therapies continue to be prescribed and used, despite warnings from menopause experts in Australia and around the world. Read more here

The fight to save Australia’s endangered animals

Australia is home to a remarkable diversity of wildlife, many of which are under threat from human activity. Scientists are now in a race to save our unique species from extinction, and reproductive biology has a key role to play.

But what are some of the key issues that have contributed to the demise of wildlife in the first place?

The ABC’s 4 corners program recently investigated the fight to save Australia’s endangered species. View the program or the transcript here:

Recognition of pregnancy in marsupials

Marsupials give birth to tiny, underdeveloped young that then complete their development outside of the mother, usually in a pouch. Because their young spend so little time in the uterus, marsupial pregnancies are very short. It has long been thought that a female marsupial responds to signals during ovulation but that her body was not able to recognise the presence of an embryo or fetus.

New collaborative research between Australia and the US has shown that marsupials do indeed recognise the presence of a developing embryo, and that their reproductive systems rapidly change to support the pregnancy.

This research is important because it suggests that recognition of pregnancy is a common feature of all live bearing mammals. Importantly it could lead to the development of new technologies, such as a pregnancy test, that could be used to improve breeding programs for threatened marsupial species.

New study shows adults born after IVF are as healthy as their peers

New Australian research has shown that children conceived using assisted reproduction (ART), including IVF, grow into adults that are just as healthy as their peers.

Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Hudson Institute of Medical Research studied the health of 193 young adults, aged between 22 and 35 years of age, who were conceived via ART. When compared to a similar group of adults who were conceived without ART, the results showed no differences between the groups for a broad range of health issues, including metabolic and cardiovascular health.

This was the largest study in the world to examine the health of ART-conceived adults and gives reassurance to adults conceived using ART, as well as for those considering ART and IVF in the future.

How the antidepressants we take could be changing the mating behaviours of fish

Millions of people around the world use antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication; but few probably realise just how much of these medications end up in the environment. Once these medications are expelled from our bodies, they end up in our sewage systems and, ultimately, our aquatic systems.

Our aquatic animals now exist, almost literally, in a sea of antidepressants and these drugs have the potential to influence the behaviour of these animals. Studies by Australian reproductive health researchers show that exposure of fish to antidepressants changes their mating behaviour which could ultimately influence entire ecosystems.

Australian scientists are revealing how pharmaceutical pollutants are a growing environmental concern for our wildlife and particularly our aquatic environments. When male fish are exposed to a constituent of the drug Prozac, they actually try to copulate more often and produce more sperm – but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, the female fish of the same species can be put off mating altogether when confronted by an over-eager male.

Ecosystems exist in a delicate balance, and a change in the reproductive behaviour of one animal can have major consequences for the rest of the ecosystem.

Read more about this research here

Find the scientific article here