July 8, 2016

Dr. Krawetz receives significant funding from Grant for Fertility Innovation program

A Wayne State University School of Medicine researcher will receive a share of $1.65 million in recently announced grants to support advancements in the field of fertility.

EMD Serono, the U.S. biopharmaceutical business of Merck KGaA, based in Germany, announced that six medical researchers would share the $1.65 million provided through its Grant for Fertility Innovation program. The grant winners were announced July 5 during the 32nd annual meeting of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Helsinki, Finland.

Stephen Krawetz, Ph.D., associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development and the Charlotte B. Failing Professor of Fetal Therapy and Diagnosis in the WSU Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology is one of the six grant winners. The amount of money each researcher will receive has not yet been announced.

Dr. Krawetz, also a professor of Molecular Medicine and Genetics, was selected for a grant for the study, "A Retrospective Controlled Cohort Study of Sperm RNAs Guiding the Treatment of the Idiopathic Infertile Couple." The study was one of six selected from 112 global proposals.

The grant, Dr. Krawetz said, will further discoveries by his team and collaborators that developed the first diagnostic test for sperm RNA based on next-generation sequencing. For couples with unexplained infertility, the test may help determine the best infertility treatment for couples having difficulty conceiving. Those findings detailed how male factors could be the cause of infertility in couples even when tested semen parameters are normal. The use of next-generation sequencing of spermatozoal ribonucleic acids, or RNAs, can provide an objective measure of the paternal contribution, and may help guide couples to the most effective method in overcoming infertility.

The findings hold the possibility of dramatic changes in the way infertile couples are treated and assisted in achieving pregnancy. About 13 percent of couples of reproductive age experience fertility problems. While the American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates that male and female factors contribute about equally to infertility, extensive evaluation of the female partner is traditional before undergoing fertility treatments. Evaluation of the male partner is not as extensive, and is generally relegated to a review of reproductive history, family history and semen analysis considering parameters that include sperm concentration, motility and morphology. The semen parameters evaluation may be useful in the diagnosis of obvious cases of male infertility, Dr. Krawetz said, but no single parameter or set of parameters serve as highly predictive of male fertility. Results of those tests are limited in helping select the least invasive fertility treatment for couples having difficulty conceiving.

The diagnostic potential of next-generation sequencing of spermatozoal RNA indicates this method is better suited to the task of analyzing the male's role in infertility, and is a step toward personalized precision reproductive medicine that may help guide the couple to their successful treatment. While sperm RNA analysis at present is technically challenging, it is being automated and could become part of a routine examination.

"In keeping with this era of emerging precision medicine, this will provide a diagnostic that effectively considers the significance of the male contribution," Dr. Krawetz said. "As we realize the promise of personalized clinical care, one can envisage integrating sperm RNA sequencing as a part of a clinical program directed toward effectively decreasing the time to pregnancy while helping to ensure the birth of a healthy child."

Dr. Krawetz said the study is a collaborative project that includes Clifford Librach, M.D., medical director of the CReATe Fertility Centre and associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology for the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto; Russ Hauser, Ph.D., the Frederick Lee Hisaw Professor of Reproductive Physiology, and of Environmental and of Occupational Epidemiology for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology for Harvard Medical School; and Sergey Moskovtsev, M.D., Ph.D., andrology director of the CReATe Fertility Centre and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology for the University of Toronto.

The Grant for Fertility Innovation program, launched in 2009, is aimed at transforming innovative translational fertility research projects into health solutions to improve the outcomes of assisted reproductive technologies.

"The Grant for Fertility Innovation reflects our unprecedented commitment to improve outcomes for patients in need of new fertility solutions," said Steven Hildemann, M.D., Ph.D., global chief medical officer and head of Global Medical and Safety for the biopharmaceutical business of Merck KGaA. "The GFI program has already enabled advanced researchers to accelerate scientific discovery and translational work to fertility care by leveraging an impactful global network of expertise across the academic and industry continuum."