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The mission of the FI Branch (formerly the Reproductive Sciences Branch) is to encourage, enable, and support scientific research aimed at alleviating human infertility, uncovering new possible pathways to control fertility, and expanding fundamental knowledge of processes that underlie human reproduction. To this end, the FI Branch provides funds for basic, clinical, and translational studies that will enhance our understanding of normal reproduction and reproductive pathophysiology, as well as enable the development of more effective strategies for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of conditions that compromise fertility, with the ultimate goal of promoting a better quality of life for all individuals.
New: Research Priorities
Early Pregnancy Loss
Gap: Although early miscarriage is a serious issue, very little is currently known about its causes and consequences. Only about 50% of conceptions advance beyond 20 weeks gestation. Approximately 50% to 70% of these early pregnancy losses result from lethal numeric chromosome errors (i.e., aneuploidy), which impact various aspects of pregnancy establishment, such as implantation and early placentation.
Priority: Encourage studies of gamete quality and preplacental processes as they relate to the etiology of early pregnancy loss.
Epigenetics and Reproduction
Gap: Epigenetic modifications to the genome occur during gametogenesis and preimplantation embryonic development. Researchers are just beginning to understand how these modifications occur and the impact of absent or altered modifications to offspring health. Data are also emerging to suggest that maternal and lifestyle behaviors (e.g., nutrition, drug use, physical activity) can alter the genome through epigenetic mechanisms affect the offspring of future generations.
Priority: Identify critical windows for epigenetic alteration of reproductive processes and the mechanisms of transgenerational inheritance.
Fertility Status as a Marker of Overall Health
Gap: Evidence over the past decade indicate that an individual's fertility status is associated with an increased risk of developing chronic health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic dysfunction. One study documented an association between shorter life spans and an infertility diagnosis for a cohort of men recruited from Texas and California. Additional work is needed to understand this link for infertile men and women, and to begin to interrogate the possible biological basis for this association.
Priority: Support studies that investigate fertility status as a marker of overall health for both men and women.
Genetic Basis of Idiopathic Infertility
Gap: Many cases of infertility cannot be ascribed to a specific genetic cause. Knowing the genetic basis of infertility is critical, not only for eventually treating infertile couples, but also for evaluating the risk that the condition will be passed to their offspring.
Priority: Encourage studies that help elucidate the genetic basis of idiopathic male and female infertility.
Metabolism, Nutrition, and Reproduction
Gap: The impact of nutrition on reproductive function is well established, with evidence that under- and overeating can negatively influence fertility in men and women. One likely way that nutritional modification alters reproduction is by affecting metabolic function. In turn, altered metabolism has profound effects on reproduction, highlighted by conditions such as insulin resistance, diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Recent attention in the field has focused on the effects of nutrition on the microbiome, and on the role of the microbiome in regulating metabolism.
Priority: Support research that examines metabolic and nutritional regulation of fertility, with emphasis on the role(s) of the microbiome.
Gap: The reproductive system is unique in that it undergoes profound functional and structural changes at different points in the normal lifespan; yet strong indicators of the onset or completion of those changes are lacking. Longitudinal studies to identify novel markers of sexual development and reproductive aging are critical to distinguish normal transitional development from atypical development. Identifying potential problems with fertility or diagnosing reproductive diseases and disorders that can impact fertility at an earlier age, thereby allowing earlier prevention or treatment strategies, would be the main goal of such investigations.
Priority: Identify reliable biomarkers to study reproductive transitions across the male and female lifespans, including puberty and reproductive aging.
Technology and Models for Infertility and Fertility Preservation
Gap: Current technical barriers and a lack of appropriate experimental models limit the ability to study the causes of infertility or how to preserve fertility when it is threatened.
Priority: Encourage the development of innovative technologies and model systems to study fertility and infertility, as well as preservation of fertility.