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Ms Kate Stanley & Ms Elizabeth Thomas in the MSc in Clinical Embryology Teaching Laboratory

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and fertility: viral host entry protein expression in male and female reproductive tissues. 

 Professor Dagan Wells’ Research Group  have published COVID-19 related research initiated by Ms Kate Stanley, a current MSc Clinical Embryology student. The Group investigated whether the different cells that make up the male and female reproductive systems are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 disease. The results are generally reassuring for both IVF and natural conception during the current pandemic.

The pre-proof version of the paper is available on the journal's website:https://bit.ly/2BzfLL7

Background information behind the research

This research was first initiated by Ms Kate Stanley and involved two further current students from within the Nuffield Department of Women’s & Reproductive Health, Ms Elizabeth Thomas, a current MSc Clinical Embryology student and Ms Megan Leaver, a current D Phil student (and MSc Clinical Embryology Alumni). The research considers whether the different cells that make up the male and female reproductive systems are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19 disease.

The results have implications for both IVF and natural conception during the current pandemic. Kate and her collaborators examined single-cell transcriptomic data, which enabled them to identify each cell type from its unique gene expression signature. The data was further analysed to reveal whether key combinations of proteins, necessary for SARS-CoV-2 to infect cells, were likely to be present. This data was supplemented by proteomic data and targeted gene expression analyses. The conclusions were generally reassuring. The risk of infection for cells of the male reproductive system is likely to be low, suggesting little short- or long-term impact of COVID-19 on male fertility. The same is true of most ovarian cells. The only cell type in the ovary that appears to express the genes necessary for viral infection are oocytes (especially those within antral follicles). However, these oocytes are surrounded by layers of cumulus cells, which do not express viral-entry proteins and likely protect the oocytes from infection. The only window for infection is therefore likely to occur after the cumulus cells are no longer present, at the preimplantation stage of embryonic development. Taken together, this data suggests that the risk for natural conception is low and likely even lower for assisted reproduction, since the potentially vulnerable preimplantation stage takes place in the sterile environment of the IVF laboratory.     

 

Congratulations to Kate, Elizabeth, Megan and Wells Group!

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