Top scientists focus on infertility and pregnancy topics

On 11 May 2017 the “Happy Pregnancy” workshop is held in Tartu for the fourth time already, bringing the world’s top scientists to Estonia to discuss significant clinical and fundamental research studies in reproductive medicine.

Failure to have children is a topic that concerns many Estonians. In Estonia, one in ten couples face infertility. The objective of the “Happy Pregnancy” study, financed by Archimedes Foundation from 2012–2015, was to develop new medical solutions for the assessment of pregnancy complications and the infertility of both sexes, the related illnesses and genetic risk.

In the course of a study coordinated by Prof. Maris Laane, Dr Kristiina Rulli and Dr Margus Punab, the Tartu University Hospital’s Women’s Clinic and Andrology Centre, and UT human geneticists launched one of the largest reproductive medicine-oriented biobanks in Europe. In the “Happy Pregnancy” database, the biomaterials and clinical data of thousands of infertile patients and (happy) pregnant ones await analysing in the coming years. The analysis of data gathered during the project may help to find new possibilities for the prevention and treatment of infertility and pregnancy failure.

During the project the tradition was introduced to organise “Happy Pregnancy” workshops in springs, where important reproductive medicine issues can be discussed more comprehensively. The subtitle of this year’s workshop is “Linking scientific advances with clinical practice in reproductive biomedicine”.

Genetic aspects of male infertility are discussed by Dr Don F. Conrad (St. Louis, USA), who has been teaching the students of Medicine, Gene Technology and Biology as a visiting lecturer at the University of Tartu since 1 April. Dr Conrad is the leader of GEMINI, an international consortium studying the genetics of male infertility. GEMINI also includes scientists of Tartu as members. The presentation by Prof. Ewa Raipert de Meytsi (Copenhagen) deals with testicular cancer in young males, which results from fetal development disorder. Prof. Lee B. Smith (Edinburgh) introduces the use of mouse models in studying genes related with male infertility in order to develop and test new treatment opportunities.

Prof. Ana Zenclussen (Magdeburg) gives an overview of immunological changes during the early stage of pregnancy. Prof. Hannele Laivuori (Helsinki) speaks of the study by the Finnish consortium FINNPEC, which focused on one of the most frequent pregnancy complications - pre-eclampsia, a condition characterised by sudden high blood pressure and kidney dysfunction. Dr Siim Sõber explains to the audience the role of placental genes in the development of a pregnancy complication. Prof. John Aplin’s (Manchester) research results can be a significant breakthrough, helping children whose growth in the uterus is restricted to some reason. Research on mouse models has shown promising results and the possibility to support fetal growth and development by means of a novel treatment of the placenta.

The workshop programme also includes presentations about the “Happy Pregnancy” study. Dr Kristiina Rull speaks about the health status of Estonian pregnant women. “Compared to other countries, prenatal diagnostics and pregnancy monitoring is well organised and of high quality in Estonia, and therefore there are relatively few serious pregnancy complications. However, it is alarming that 27% of pregnant women are overweight and nearly 9% obese, which is a strong risk factor for several pregnancy-related problems,” says Rull, adding that in recent years pregnant women have been noted to use various vitamins and dietary supplements, but pay relatively little attention to exercise. “According to their own estimate, nearly 50% of pregnant women walk for less than one hour a day, and every tenth walks less than 20 minutes a day. This is obviously too little,” says Rull. Dr Margus Punab unveils the background to infertility in Estonian men based on the information collected during the 10-year study.

All interested are welcome to the workshop held in English on 11 May in Omicum, Riia 23b-105.The event is free. Please find the detailed programme of the workshop, overview of all presentations and preregistration on the Happy Pregnancy website.

The workshop is organised by the “Happy Pregnancy” team in cooperation with the UT Doctoral School of Clinical Medicine and UT Graduate School in Biomedicine and Biotechnology.
The keynote speaker Dr. Don Conrad’s stay in Estonia and at the University of Tartu is supported by the US government’s Fulbright Specialist programme, which was arranged with the help of the US Embassy in Estonia.

Additional information:
Maris Laan, UT Professor of Human Molecular Genetics, 5349 5258,

Kadri Kunnus
University of Tartu Senior Specialist for Public Relations
Tel: +(372) 737 5509
Mob: +(372) 507 0963