Get To Know Our Embryologist Jin

Posted on February 8, 2017 by Inception Fertility

I finished my college education in China, majoring in biotechnology, biochemistry and molecular biology. After graduation I decided to continue my studies in Australia and in 2005 I started my master’s in biology in an entirely new environment at the University of Newcastle.

Being far from home was not easy for me at first. I was lucky though, to have a great mentor, Laureate Professor John Aitken. John is a pioneer in male reproduction and is a well-known reproductive biologist in Australia and around the world. He patented the world’s first chemical contraceptive which kills sperm as well as bacteria causing sexually transmitted infections. My co-supervisor Dr. Brett Nixon is knowledgeable, supportive, and patient. I gained from John and Brett not only professional knowledge, but also scientific ways of thinking and working.

At the University of Newcastle I was introduced to the field of reproductive biology. I was investigating whether an enzyme called “NADPH oxidase” is present in sperm. It was so interesting seeing sperm swimming under the microscope for the first time; they were super active, especially as they got ready for fertilization. The time that I spent in the Aitken lab was an amazing experience. As I was finishing my master’s degree I became more interested in biology, especially reproductive and developmental biology.

Upon finishing my master’s degree, I moved to Sydney for my PhD at the University of New South Wales. I was drawn to Sydney by the opportunity to study human embryonic stem cells; interesting pluripotent cells that can differentiate into any cell type in a human body. I was among the first people reporting applications of a combined epigenetic and non-genetic approach for reprogramming human somatic cells and the trans-differentiation ability of the reprogrammed cells. This was a big step toward the potential clinical application of stem cell-based therapy. I published some good papers on my project and won the award for the best publication of the year at UNSW.

However, embryonic stem cells seemed to upset me a little bit – they don’t swim and they don’t change much. They proliferate and differentiate, but all you can see is that you have more cells in a petri dish the next day. I wanted to go back to germ cells and reproductive biology. So, when I had the opportunity to interview with Professor Renee Reijo Pera, an expert in reproductive biology and stem cell biology at Stanford University, I was thrilled.

In 2010 I moved to California as a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. Renee served as the Director of the Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research and Education, and the Center for Reproductive and Stem Cell Biology. During the first year in the Reijo Pera lab, I still focused on embryonic stem cells and tried to differentiate them into sperm. Then one day Renee showed me a movie she saved from a previous study, where she and her postdoc monitored human embryo development from day 1 to day 5. I was amazed by how much one little cell can do and how lives all begin from these single cells. I told Renee right away that I wanted to have a project studying embryo development. Thus, I started my journey working with human embryos in 2011.

At Stanford, I was exposed to one of the most active and technologically advanced academic environments, and was able to collaborate with some of the most intelligent people in the world. As a result of our studies of early cell divisions in the embryo, a device was designed to predict the developmental potential of an embryo on day 1 (right after fertilization), rather than day 3 which is more traditional and somewhat subjective. By using a video time-lapse monitoring system, the potential of each embryo could be predicted reliably, and early in the process. This new technology holds great promise for improving IVF success rates because it enables embryologists to better select an embryo for transfer from among a group of embryos belonging to a single patient. It may also significantly lower IVF costs. Information about this invention was published in Nature Communications earlier last year1.

When I finished my fellowship at Stanford and was facing career choices, I realized that I didn’t want to be a scientist in a research laboratory for the rest of my life. Instead, I was eager to be more involved in applying new concepts and technologies to help people directly. So in 2016, I accepted a job offer and started to work at PFC. My experience thawing human embryos donated for research, culturing them in the time-lapse incubator, and manipulating them for all sorts of analyses was a great foundation for training as a clinical embryologist.

It has been a short year for me at PFC, as the time has passed quickly as I applied myself to learning all aspects of the job. I have had the good fortune to experience world-class expertise, as well as high standards in clinical care and treatment. I am really proud to work with our physicians who are professional, knowledgeable and caring, and the team of embryologists and clinical staff, who are sincere and responsible.

My next goal is to combine my research background with my clinical experience to help each and every couple that comes to PFC to create their dream family. I hope that IVF will one day become simpler with more automated technologies to help lower costs but increases success. We continue to seek a better understanding of embryos; how they develop, why they sometimes fail and how we can create a better laboratory environment. This process never ends as we can always do better, and as we grow, so do the embryos.

- Jin Han

  1. L. Yanez*, J. Han*, B. B. Behr, R. A. Reijo Pera, D. Camarillo, Human oocyte developmental potential is predicted by mechanical properties within hours after fertilization. Nat Commun. 2016; 7: 10809

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