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World-first fallopian tube biobank provides new insights into failed pregnancies

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2 September 2015
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A world-first biobank of human fallopian tube samples established by the Royal Hospital for Women  and UNSW will give new insights into ectopic and failed pregnancies, ultimately leading to improved fertility outcomes.

The biobank stores fallopian tubes donated by women who have undergone surgery following an ectopic pregnancy or a hysterectomy. The biobank is located the UNSW Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

Currently 56 participants have donated to the biobank providing 41 DNA samples, 327 fresh tissue specimens, 136 frozen cell pellets and 140 plasma samples. The biobank has gathered sufficient samples to allow research to begin, with three research projects now underway.

William Ledger, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UNSW and Director of Reproductive Medicine at the Royal Hospital for Women, said the voluntary donation of fallopian tubes will allow researchers to better understand impaired fertility, implantation failure and miscarriage.

“Ectopic pregnancies are common and life threatening and the first question women often ask is ‘why did this happen to me?’ and to be honest at the moment we don’t really have answers,” Professor Ledger said.

One in 80 pregnancies is ectopic with between two or three deaths of Australian women from an ectopic pregnancy each year.

“The biobank will put fallopian tube specimens, previously treated as clinical waste, to pioneering use. The possibilities of what we could learn from research using the biobank’s resources are enormous,” Professor Ledger said.

The study of implantation of a new embryo is key to understanding infertility and developing treatments. Typically, conception occurs in a fallopian tube before the embryo moves into the uterus around one week later, where it implants and continues to develop.

Implantation failure is the most common cause of infertility in young women, contributing to miscarriage and the potentially life-threatening condition ectopic pregnancy, which accounts for 73% of early pregnancy mortalities and morbidities.

Using detailed microscope examination, micro-dissection and molecular analysis, researchers hope to learn more about the relationship between the mother’s body and the new embryo and what can go wrong.

Study of ectopic pregnancies could also shed light on the development of diseases like cancer.

“In early pregnancy the placenta, from the baby, is invading into the wall of a mother’s womb – or in the case of ectopic pregnancy, it’s growing into mum’s fallopian tube,” Professor Ledger said.

“So you’ve got tissue invasion – which is also what cancer does. So there’s a parallel we can use to ask questions about how cancer develops.”