Looking Back for the Future

When I was in DC this past January, I began to wonder how far we have not come in 10 years.

I took this photo because it kind of bummed me out. I imagine most will actually find it exciting, and for good reason. The ability to revive extinct species or prevent extinctions in a variety of ways, including using biobanking, is pretty fantastic.

But 10 years ago, I was hip deep in research to make this even better. And while I knew what I was working on was not going to be the coming of a new age in cryogenic preservation, I also knew it would help.

See, a frozen embryo is fantastic for potentially raising up an individual at some point in the future, but you’re stuck with the genetics you have access to right then. Frozen sperm gives more flexibility. You can inseminate a female a few days, a few months, a few years or a whole lotta years down the road. So your genetic pool is wider. If you could freeze oocytes (or, for a variety of reasons, even just the nucleus thereof) as well, the flexibility would be greatest of all. You could inseminate the oocyte from 10 years ago with the fresh sperm of an individual now. Or ship cross country. Or globally.

That was the end (an end), far end, goal of the research lab I worked in for my M.Sc. Not only to freeze sperm (which we had the ability for by then), or embryos (same), but to be able to freeze female genetic contribution for future use.

It’s a big deal. And it was pretty neat to work on. Though, gotta admit, like so much science, the day to day was occasionally duuuuullll. (I counted a LOT of cells day in and day out.)

And, in truth, I still believe that work was/is helpful. But I was surprised, when I read the words in that photo, to find that oocyte cryogenics isn’t part of SVF Foundation’s biobanking. Not that I even knew who SVF Foundation was before seeing that photo…

When I moved to Chicago, I left this world of cell biology behind. It wasn’t 100% intentional, but neither was it surprising. I came here to study ecology and evolution, and I had hopes and dreams of fieldwork. This came with plenty of piles of new things to read and study. So, I didn’t keep up with developments in my former field.

Which is obvious, given I just got my biobanking-related science news from an exhibit in a museum. But it was a surprise and disappointment. It left me wondering what progress has, and hasn’t, been made since I left.

Final note: My advisors for my M.Sc. were fantastic, lovely people. Particularly Pierre, whom I worked most closely with. (He inadvertently taught me one French curse word, even.) I wish I had kept in touch with them, but our communication lapsed fairly quickly. I certainly did not keep up my end, which I now regret. However, in time, I learned that the work we’d done had been published in Fertility and Sterility in 2009. If you’d like to read it, it is not, at the time of this writing, behind a pay wall. I’m rereading it myself. Paracrine factors from cumulus-enclosed oocytes ensure the successful maturation and fertilization in vitro of denuded oocytes in the cat model.