Oocytes (or eggs) provide the overwhelming majority of cellular building blocks required by embryos. Because females are born with a fixed quota of eggs, both the quality and numbers of available oocytes decline with advancing female age. With women embarking on pregnancy later and later in life, poor oocyte quality has become the biggest stumbling block for pregnancy success. In spite of the importance of oocytes, surprisingly little is known about “what makes a good egg”. Furthermore, at present, there are no available approaches for improving oocyte quality in the clinic. Understanding how the ovarian egg reservoir is regulated throughout life is another important objective since in around 1% of women, the ovarian pool becomes prematurely exhausted before 40 years of age. Remarkably, in over 90% of such cases of premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), there is no identifiable underlying cause.

Professor Homer’s lab is the first lab in Queensland with extensive expertise in studying oocytes, made possible by the Christopher Chen Chair in Reproductive Medicine. The Christopher Chen Chair is Australia’s first and only fully-endowed Chair in Reproductive Medicine.

Professor Homer’s lab is one of only a handful of labs in the world applying state-of-the-art techniques including high-resolution imaging to study oocytes and embryos. The work seeks to better understand oocyte quality and how the ovarian reservoir is regulated with a view to developing novel technologies. The lab is also investigating innovative approaches for protecting oocytes from the damaging effects of chemotherapy during cancer treatment. This research has major implications for the success and safety of assisted reproductive treatments, for fertility preservation and for broader reproductive health.