Discovery lab for Reproductive and Child Health

Families are built in a variety of ways. Some people start families relatively easily, whereas others are not able to do so and this can be debilitating. Having the power to decide the number and spacing of children in a family is also very important. The science behind reproduction is complicated as many different organs and cell types are involved in having a baby. Furthermore, human reproduction is not very efficient with around 1 in 10 people seeking medical help to have a baby. Finally for a person to reversibly control their own fertility, not all available contraceptive methods are suitable, and in some cases could be incompatible with underlying health conditions. Therefore, in order to understand key issues in reproductive health and medicine the students, postdoctoral fellows, research faculty and staff in the Clark Lab are highly trained in the science of stem cell biology, gene editing, genomics and mouse modeling. Utilizing these state-of-the-art approaches, our lab identifies new genes and pathways involved in human fertility as well as developing next generation approaches to restoring or controlling fertility using stem cells. Continue reading below for additional details on projects currently available in the lab.

Project 1: Identifying Genes involved in Human Fertility and Germ Cell Development

In our lab, we study reproductive cells called germ cells. This cell lineage is primarily responsible for differentiating into eggs or sperm (gametes) in the adult ovary or testis. A person without germ cells will receive a diagnosis of infertility and will be unable to have a baby without medical intervention and the use of donor eggs or sperm. Therefore, understanding the cell and molecular basis of germ cell formation can help provide answers to individuals or couples who receive a diagnosis of infertility, and help them make informed choices as to the next steps in their family building journey.

The Clark laboratory publishes extensively on the cell and molecular basis of human reproduction with a focus on characterizing the key stages of germ cell formation leading to healthy gametes. To achieve this, we use various genomic technologies including at analysis of thousands of cells at a single cell level using next generation sequencing, laboratory animal modeling and pluripotent stem cells.

In our pluripotent stem cell work, we use human embryonic stem cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells consented specifically for fertility and infertility research. The pluripotent stem cell cell lines routinely used in our lab have been generated by our group over the last fifteen years using state of the art derivation and reprogramming procedures. Using these pluripotent stem cell lines, we routinely differentiate the stem cells into germ cells and use gene editing approaches to model the role of genes and pathways in human germ cell formation towards understanding causes of infertility.

Project 2: Identifying Non-Hormonal Contraceptives to Increase Family Planning Choices

Hormonal birth control when first released on the market in the 1960’s empowered individuals and couples to control the number and spacing of the children in their families. However hormonal-based contraceptives have undesired side-effects and in some cases hormonal-based contraception is not an option due to underlying health concerns. This necessitates the development of non-hormonal alternatives that provide more options to people

The Gates Foundation is currently supporting the Ovarian Contraceptive Discovery Initiative to develop new non-hormonal contraceptives that can expand contraceptive choices for women.

As part of this initiative which is lead by Northwestern University, the Clark Lab at UCLA is funded to build ovarian follicles in the laboratory using stem-cell-based organoids.