Dr Katie Fowler comments on how the first litter of puppies born through IVF is an important breakthrough for non-human embryology.

The world’s first successful case of IVF in dogs reported today, is an extremely exciting development in the field of non-human embryology.

Human IVF is clearly well established and is now a routine and vital part of fertility treatment. However, there are numerous challenges associated with embryology in non-human animals and one of the most significant of these is embryo freezing. Now that these challenges have been overcome in the dog, these techniques could potentially be transferred to other species for various downstream applications.

Such uses may include the conservation of genetics in endangered species as well as in animals of agricultural importance such as the pig and cow.

My expertise in pig embryology helps me appreciate the difficulties that these researchers must have faced; for example, the ‘fat’, or lipid content in several species of non-human animal embryos (including pig and dog) makes them exceptionally difficult to work with under a microscope. This high lipid content makes the embryos very dark in colour which in turn makes signs of fertilisation difficult to see and this also makes the freezing process far more challenging.

I think that this is a very exciting step forward in the field of embryology. I am optimistic that this research will pave the way for transferable technology in other species and I hope to see many more healthy puppies born from this technology!

Katie is a lecturer in the School of Human and Life Sciences. Her research interests include non-human embryology with a focus on embryo freezing. She is currently working in collaboration with Genea Biomedx, a world leader in fertility technology, on a project based at the newly established Life Sciences Industry Liaison Lab at Discovery Park. Katie will be the first supervisor (second supervisor Dr. Simon Harvey) of a new Ph.D. student, Anjali Mandawala who will be working on improving IVF success rates and embryo freezing techniques in agricultural species.