Spotlight Interview: Professor Eva Hoffmann

Posted by on January 23, 2019

Professor Eva Hoffmann is working at the University of Copenhagen. She is a Professor in molecular genetics and reproductive health, and her research interests include how chromosomes are passed on between parents and their offspring and how this relates to genetic health in children, infertility, and miscarriage.

In this quick interview, we ask Professor Hoffmann about her vision for the future of reproductive medicine, her research and expectation for the new ReproUnion project.

1. What is your scientific background?
I trained as a biologist for my B.A. and then carried out a Ph.D. and 3-year postdoc in molecular genetics and biochemistry of how new chromosome are formed in the germline (recombination). I used a model organism (budding yeast), since the process of recombination is highly conserved, including in human. In 2007, I become a group leader at the Medical Research Council in the UK (Genome Damage and Stability Centre), where I continued working with the yeast model and added a program on how recombination, which also physically links chromosomes, impacts on chromosome segregation in human oocytes and embryos. In 2016, I was recruited to the DNRF Center for Chromosome Stability at the medical school in Copenhagen and initiated close collaborations with fertility clinics in Region H to start an extensive program on chromosome errors and genome stability in human eggs and embryos.

2. What made you enter the field of reproductive medicine?
We have appreciated for a long time that human eggs are very error-prone in terms of chromosome transmission. Nearly 20% of eggs have too many or too few chromosomes, such as in Down and Turner Syndrome. As women age, this problem becomes worse and effectively limits reproductive lifespan. Despite the significant clinical problem, we have very little knowledge of the mechanisms that give rise to the high incidence of chromosome errors in human conceptions and what motivates me is to understand the molecular causes. This is the first step towards finding interventions or predict which women might be at elevated risk of having an aneuploid conception. Such knowledge may also help inform when preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidy may be effective in fertility clinics.

3. In your opinion, what is the most interesting thing about working in your area of expertise?
I feel very privileged to work in the intersection between clinical utility and basic research- disease mechanism. Overcoming the challenges associated with conducting basic research on human oocytes and embryos as well as the implications of chromosome errors for reproductive health require close collaborations between clinicians, basic scientists and also industry. ReproUnion generates an infrastructure that makes such complex interactions feasible.

4. In your opinion, what are the greatest challenges within research in reproductive medicine?
I see the greatest challenge as understanding basic disease mechanism. If we can understand how genetic and environmental factors act in concert to cause disease, then we can start translational aspects to improve patient care and treatment. This requires being sufficiently specific in focus in order to combine studies of large cohorts and integrate this with molecular and cellular studies in order to formulate hypotheses and interventions in clinical trials. For example, recent studies in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has generated exciting findings across reproductive fields and hold translational promise. The cohorts we have in ReproUnion 2.0 should make us competitive on the world-stage in this field.

5. What are the greatest achievements made in reproductive medicine in your opinion?
Reproductive medicine is a broad field, but one of the major achievements include IVF and of course getting the morbidity associated with ovarian hyperstimulation reduced. IVF has opened the door for a range of fertility treatments, such as surgical treatments to recover sperm from infertile men (micro-TESE). From a broader perspective, oral contraception and hormone replacement therapy for women are two major achievements that have improved the reproductive health world-wide. Oral contraception for women has allowed improved family planning and spacing of children and HRT has been effective for a range of co-morbidities associated with menopause.

6. What is your expectation for the ReproUnion 2.0 project?
There are several expectations, amongst them capitalizing on the excellent advances made already over a 10-year period in order to establish world-leading research programs and intervention studies. I also expect better integration with industry and that ReproUnion will continue the career development of the next-generation of younger scientists and clinicians.

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