From Italy to America - A PFC Embryologist's Story
The first time I saw an oocyte was in the spring of 2000 when I interviewed for a PhD position in the Department of Medical Embryology in Rome, Italy. I immediately fell in love with these little round cells, and decided to dedicate the next 4 years to study their physiology while obtaining my PhD. It was only at the beginning of 2002 that I discovered something even more beautiful than the oocyte: the embryo. Embryos are truly magical as here all life begins, and being able to study and observe their development and natural changes is an immense privilege.
The love for embryos and embryogenesis is one of the many things that I owe to my amazing wife Simona. I first met her at a research meeting in northern Italy in 2001. She was a PhD student in a different department at the same university in Rome, and her projects mainly focused on embryogenesis using a particular type of genetically engineered mouse. At that time there were no microscopes that could continually image developing embryos for us, so we would spend night after night in her research laboratory at the microscope looking at embryo development. She taught me how to use a micromanipulator and I still go to her to this day when I have questions or a difficult ICSI (the technique used when we need to inject one sperm into one oocyte).
The PhD program was fun and exciting and I published some good papers, but the best part was the opportunity to spend the last 6 months at Stanford University in northern California. I was able to work in one of the best laboratories in the world that focuses on the study of oocyte maturation and embryo development. In November 2004 I defended my PhD thesis in Rome and by the beginning of 2005 I was back in California and very proud to be a postdoctoral fellow back at Stanford University but now in the Center for Reproductive Health. Simona was one year behind me in her PhD program, so we waited until the end of 2005 to start living and working together again at Stanford.
The postdoc work at Stanford University was very stimulating and rewarding. We were able to collaborate with incredible people, which is how we were first exposed to the world of human IVF. In 2007 our Principal Investigator moved to UCSF as the director of the Center for Reproductive Science and we followed him there. By the end of 2007 Simona had finished her research project at UCSF and decided to completely dedicate her career to the clinical aspect of human IVF. By 2008 she was an embryologist in the IVF laboratory at UCSF, where she was already volunteering three days a week under the direction of Dr. Shehua Shen.
In 2008 I helped design an IVF laboratory for a new IVF clinic in the Los Angeles area called CARE Fertility Center. I worked part-time every weekend from 2008 to 2010, and in 2012 I became the off-site Laboratory Director for the center. In 2009 I joined Simona in the IVF laboratory at UCSF where I was in charge of the clinical research projects.
Later in 2009, an opportunity presented itself in Orange County and since I was already working part-time in South California as an embryologist, I accepted and we moved once again! Simona and I spent one year running the laboratory of a new clinic called LIFE IVF Center whose main focus is IVF with minimal stimulation and in natural cycles. That was a wonderful learning experience for us and we helped grow the clinic from the very first cycle to more than 500 cycles a year. Unfortunately, Orange County never felt like home to us and we missed San Francisco and the Bay Area a lot.
So how did we end up at PFC? Before leaving San Francisco for Orange County I had the pleasure to meet the IVF laboratory members at Pacific Fertility Center and spent a day in their company. We stayed in touch often and one day in 2011 I called asking for help in recruiting a new embryologist for my lab in Orange County. Unexpectedly, PFC also had opening for new embryologists and offered Simona and I the chance to return to San Francisco. One week later Simona and I were interviewing for a position with the group of MDs that run Pacific Fertility Center. One month after that we moved back to San Francisco and started working in the lab at PFC.
More than two years have now passed at PFC and I am still excited and surprised by how much I can learn every day from the laboratory and physician group. They are a rare combination of professionalism, quality and dedication that I could not find anywhere else. I am very happy and proud to have finally found the place that gives me the joy of going to work every day to help people in the very best possible way!
— Sergio Vaccari, PhD