After training at University College London, Dr Wells moved to the United States and joined Reprogenetics, one of the largest providers of embryo diagnostic services in the USA, initiating their highly successful single gene PGD programme. He later joined the faculty of Yale University Medical School, where he spent four years as an Assistant Professor before returning to the UK in October 2007. His research group is now located in the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Oxford. Dr Wells also directs Reprogenetics UK, a laboratory providing preimplantation genetic diagnosis and other molecular biology services to the IVF community.
Project: Non-invasive detection of chromosome abnormality in human oocytes
Chromosome abnormality (aneuploidy) is extremely common in human oocytes and is one of the principal reasons for the decreasing success rates of in vitro fertilisation treatment seen with advancing female age. Aneuploidy is also responsible for the majority of miscarriages and causes serious conditions such as Down syndrome. Currently, abnormalities of this type are usually detected by biopsy of cells from embryos followed by the use of techniques such as microarray comparative genomic hybridisation (aCGH). However, this approach is expensive, laborious and the biopsy is not without risk to the embryo.
We propose a non-invasive method of identifying chromosomally abnormal oocytes based upon measurement of gene activity in the cumulus cells (CCs) that surround them as they mature in the ovarian follicle. There is strong evidence that the quality of the oocyte and the condition of the follicle are reflected in the pattern of gene activity in the CCs. We intend to combine powerful genetic methodologies to identify the cumulus cell genes most informative in terms of oocyte aneuploidy. These genes will then form the basis of a non-invasive, rapid, and inexpensive test for chromosome abnormality.