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MSc skills 5© Medical Sciences Division and John Cairns

subject introduction

Clinical embryology is a relatively young branch of reproductive science that has undergone enormous expansion over the last twenty years. Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test tube’ baby, was born in 1978 as a result of pioneering work carried out by a British research team led by Patrick Steptoe (a clinician) and Robert Edwards (a scientist). Since then, infertility treatment has undergone phenomenal development and become a highly specialised field involving a multitude of interventions known collectively as assisted reproductive technology (ART).

It is estimated that 1 in 6 couples will experience infertility.  Worldwide, approximately one million ART treatments are now performed each year and over five million ART babies have been born. In order to sustain this pattern of growth, and provide our patients with the best levels of care, it is imperative that we continue to provide sufficient numbers of appropriately-trained personnel, who can be deployed all over the world.  For example, we need specialist physicians to make accurate diagnoses and design treatment plans. We need clinical embryologists to carry out complex procedures in the laboratory in line with strict quality assurance indicators.  Finally, we need to motivate and inspire the next generation of scientists to carry out laboratory research so that we can optimise, refine or replace our techniques and equipment. 

In response to these concerns, the University of Oxford has developed an intensive, one-year, residential, taught MSc in Clinical Embryology. Our intention is to inspire, motivate and train a network of future leaders in ART throughout the world.

Our mission is create a new brand of embryologist, specialist physician, or scientific researcher in the field of ART, by providing extensive theoretical  and practical understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and ART and linking this to the dynamic  fields of scientific research, legislation,  bioethics and quality management.


Our course includes a considerable laboratory practical component. Our students learn skills and techniques directly relevant to ART, as well as a range of ‘traditional’ and ‘cutting edge’ laboratory techniques common to scientific research. A particular strength of our programme is the fact that each of our students is individually trained in human semen analysis, cryopreservation and vitrification, gamete manipulation/injection and infra-red laser embryo biopsy. For this purpose, our students use gametes and embryos acquired from a variety of mammalian organisms (e.g.mouse, hamster and human). 

Our MSc programme prepares students for active employment  or further training within the clinical embryology/ART sectoror a research career in reproductive science. As the course was designed in response to identified employment needs, our graduates are highly sought after. In particular, we expect our graduates to possess sufficient knowledge and skills to allow them to make a significant contribution to the design and establishment of new ART units which need to incorporate the latest techniques and conform strictly to current legislation. We also expect our graduates to be able to design and carry out investigativer research programmes. Indeed, every year, we also encourage exceptional graduates to apply for prestigious scholarships in order to undertake a DPhil (Oxford equivalent of a PhD), either within the Department or the wider University.

Once enrolled on the MSc programme, you will be allocated a Departmental Mentor, who will be a senior member of the clinical, scientific or research staff. Your Mentor can provide individual support and guidance throughout the course. You will also become a member of one of Oxford’s historic and prestigious colleges and be assigned a College Tutor. This level of individual support is a prominent and highly acclaimed feature of the University’s environment and will provide the support necessary for you to achieve maximum benefit from your studies.