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European Joint Doctorate in Biology and Technology of Reproductive Health

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - REP-BIOTECH (European Joint Doctorate in Biology and Technology of Reproductive Health)

Reporting period: 2017-11-01 to 2019-10-31

Rep-Biotech is an Innovative Training Network composed of 12 leading academic research groups and 3 companies from 9 different countries: Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Germany, USA, Japan and The Netherlands. Rep-Biotech aimed to deepen the basic knowledge of the mechanisms involved in mammalian fertilization and embryo development, providing useful strategies contributing towards improved food quality (through the implementation of more efficient and secure animal reproductive technologies), human health (by contributing to finding solutions to reproductive pathologies and their epidemiologic factors) and human and animal fertility (by identifying target molecules involved in successful fertilization).
The overall objective of Rep-Biotech was to build a research, training and academic programme to train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative Early-Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the interdisciplinary domain of reproductive health and fertility. To achieve this overall objective, 8 Work Packages (WPs) were specifically designed.

Our main conclusions are:
- the novelty of the different results obtained indicates that we have produced relevant information with potential applications to improve the diagnosis and treatments of different reproductive issues.
- the inclusion of partner organizations from the industry sector in the doctoral/research training programme favours the development of application-oriented research projects and widens the employability of the ESRs outside the traditional academic sector.
- the project has consolidated a Joint Doctoral degree structure that will continue training more PhD candidates.
The work performed in the 8 WPs from the beginning to the end of the project is summarized as follows:

WP1 (Management and Coordination) included the launch of the project website ( the recruitment of the ESRs using an open and merit-based procedure, the selection of the members of the Supervisory Board, the Legal Agreements for the Joint Doctorate, the organization of the Kick-Off meeting; the selection of the Ambassadors and the planning of outreach activities.

WP2 (ESR and Network-Wide Training) consisted of the selection, coordination and organization of all courses, workshops, national and international conferences, internal meetings and secondments attended by the ESRs to acquire the technical and transferable skills necessary to successfully complete their specific research project.

WP3 (Molecular embryology, genetics and stem cells) helped to unravel the mechanism of sex determination in different species and to better understand certain cases of fertility disorders; to identify several miRNAs in extracellular vesicles which can be used to develop noninvasive molecular markers of metabolic stress that affects fertility; and to define treatments to improve the amniotic epithelial cell regenerative potential in stem cell-based therapies.

WP4 (Reproductive health and epidemiology) research results revealed that the serum vitamin D concentrations are not directly related to poor semen quality. Other results included confirmation of the importance of Nitric Oxide for male and female gametes function; implementation of new techniques to obtain the best possible outcome of clinical fertility preservation using cryopreservation, development of a new prototype to collect human uterine fluid and to establish the first biobank collection of human reproductive fluids.

WP5 (Reproductive technologies and embryology) helped to better understand the mechanisms underlying embryo-oviduct communication and investigated some underlying potential causes of subfertility associated with the advancement of age at puberty; a computational model of sperm capacitation (based on biological networks theory) to study of protein-protein interactions during the post-ejaculatory life of spermatozoa was created; and we analyzed the modifications induced in spermatozoa incubated with a carbon-based material such as graphene oxide.

WP6 (Epigenetics and Environment) results allowed to envision the potential use of some molecules released in extracellular vesicles as biomarkers allowing to differentiate good-quality from low-quality embryos, to expand the knowledge on the negative impact of heat stress on animal fertility, to select the most suitable time of the year to collect sperm samples to be cryopreserved in genetic resource banks, to increase the developmental outcome of oocytes and embryos exposed to the transient negative energy balance seen in postpartum dairy cows, to obtain embryos using natural bovine follicular fluid as a supplement in maturation media and use these embryos to test pregnancy rates, calving and the resulting offspring.

In WP7 (Citizens and society - Communication) the work performed focused on communication among the stakeholders and the general EU public. The Ambassadors were involved in communication activities including participation in Open Days, Week of Science, interviews on radio and TV, and visits to schools and high-schools. In addition, the website and social media accounts have been updated regularly to share varioius types of information related to the project. We have also produced explanatory videos about the project that are freely available on the project’s website.

In WP8 (Transfer of results - dissemination) the work performed focused on the dissemination of the obtained scientific results and their presentation at international forums. Rep-Biotech ESRs have attended 36 national and international conferences.
Our goal was to train 15 ESRs, and we truly believe that we have trained 15 creative, entrepreneurial and innovative open-minded individuals, with a wide vision and a broad knowledge-base to devise innovative solutions to address the current challenges in the reproductive field, and to convert their research into services for social and economic benefit.

All ESRs have been awarded with a European Joint Doctorate degree. Together they have, to date, published 32 manuscripts in peer review journals (with others in preparation) and have presented 34 oral communications and 50 posters at national and international conferences. Two book chapters were also written.

The potential interest in the exploitation of the obtained results is still under evaluation. The transformation of scientific results into applications that directly benefit industry and society usually takes time, but all project members will continue to analyze the different exploitation possibilities in the near future
Rep-Biotech Projects Summary
Rep-Biotech Team Barcelona Internal Meeting
Rep-Biotech Main Graph
Rep-Biotech Logo HR