Research Projects at Bourn Hall Clinic

Research Projects at Bourn Hall Clinic

Bourn Hall’s philosophy of continuous improvement includes keeping abreast of new developments in the field that could contribute to improving our success rates. Increasing our knowledge about the factors that regulate normal development will ultimately help us to keep improving patients’ chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.

Advances in molecular and cell biology technology and techniques now provide opportunities for sophisticated and detailed analysis of the molecular and genetic mechanisms that regulate the viability and health of gametes and embryos; this kind of research requires specialized facilities and technology that is available only in academic centres with dedicated research staff, equipment and resources.

Bourn Hall Clinic has the unique and valuable opportunity to collaborate with several internationally renowned research teams in Cambridge, London and Leeds. This access to advanced cutting-edge expertise and technology means that any gamete or embryo donated for research will be used to its maximum potential in order to make a significant contribution to our understanding of early embryo development. Overlapping avenues of research now yield significant insight into pathways and mechanisms of embryonic development that have not previously been accessible to research.

Every healthy gamete and embryo retrieved or generated during any treatment cycle is used first and foremost for treatment. In the normal course of events, there will be surplus sperm that is not required for treatment, as well as oocytes that fail to fertilize, and unhealthy or abnormal embryos that are not suitable for transfer or freezing. Surplus or unsuitable material is routinely discarded, but could instead provide a very valuable resource for research, allowing us to investigate the mechanisms that can (and do) go wrong during in vitro embryo development and the first stages of implantation.

Healthy embryos that have been frozen for future treatment but are no longer required due to completion of family or other reasons are an immensely valuable and unique resource for investigations about metabolism, the way that their genetic material is expressed, and the mechanisms that lead to implantation. Those that develop in culture to the blastocyst stage (on day 5 or 6 of culture) contain a mass of cells (inner cell mass) that are “pluripotent”, i.e., can develop into many different types of cell. If these cells can be separated and continue to divide, they are known as “stem cells”. Molecular biology techniques allow these cells to be analysed in order to gain valuable information about the processes involved in survival and differentiation of early embryonic cells, as well as causes of miscarriage. Embryos donated for research with informed consent will be allocated to one of our collaborating research centres (this link provides details of each Centre’s research projects).

Every gamete or embryo donated for research makes an immensely valuable contribution, and is greatly appreciated. The information gained from the scientific studies may not only help us to improve fertility treatment, understand the origin of defects and avoid miscarriage, but also lead to development of new research tools that can lead to cures for many serious disorders.

Current Collaborative Research Projects

Further details about our current research collaborations, together with what is involved in donating embryos to research can be seen in our Patient Information and Consent forms at the links below

Understanding the biology of human preimplantation embryos, gametes and stem cells

Meiosis in unfertilised human oocytes

Additional Information

K. Niakan et al. (2012) Human Preimplantation Development; Development 139, 829-841

K. Niakan & D. Eggan (2013) Analysis of human embryos from zygote to blastocyst reveals distinct gene expression patterns relative to the mouse; Developmental Biology 375, 54-64


We have a wealth of knowledge and unrivalled experience. We carry out around over 2,000 treatment cycles per year and continue to improve our success rates and range of treatments through our research.


We have contributed to fertility specialist books for over 30 years. Read more

Journal Publications

We have over 80 journal publications. Read more

Poster Presentations

We have presented at the ACE Conference in Sheffield, Liverpool and Dublin. Read more

Contact Information

Please contact Dr Kay Elder if you have any questions about our research projects, or, would like further information or copies of journal publications. We also welcome enquiries from academic research units who would like to discuss the possibility of initiating collaborative research projects.

Read Kay’s biography

Call us in confidence:
01954 717210