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Widening the Scientific Excellence for Studies on Women’s and Fetal Health and Wellbeing

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WIDENLIFE (Widening the Scientific Excellence for Studies on Women’s and Fetal Health and Wellbeing)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-12-31

Reproductive medicine, encompassing research into the genetic component of female reproductive traits, embryonic development and fetomaternal health and wellbeing, is central to overcoming infertility. Infertility, manifesting as the inability of a couple to achieve a pregnancy is a common medical problem affecting 10-20% of couples during their reproductive years. The demographic dimension of infertility is increasingly worrisome in European societies, where population trends are characterized by advancing ageing and parenthood postponing. The WIDENLIFE consortium consists of three academic (University of Tartu - UTARTU, Estonia; University of Oxford, UOXF, UK; and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven -KU LEUVEN, Belgium) partners. The members of the consortium have acquired excellent and unique expertise in diverse fields of biomedical research that, when combined, formed a strong, stimulating and coherent research environment ensuring the pooling of complementary scientific skills in reproductive genetics and medicine. The framework of the WIDENLIFE programme aimed at establishing UTARTU as the leading research and education institution for reproductive medicine in Eastern and Nordic Europe and intensifying trilateral synergies, leading to more efficient and systematic transfer of knowledge and skills between the consortium collaborators. Through the activities of WIDENLIFE, UTARTU exploited the existing collaborative network with KU Leuven, to become an expert pre-implantation and non-invasive prenatal diagnosis centre in Eastern/Nordic Europe. Moreover, through the transfer of knowledge UTARTU got access to innovative wet-lab and computational technologies developed at KU Leuven which to be implemented to better understand the biological significance of chromosome instability in oogenesis, cleavage-stage and fetal development. Further to the advancing UTARTUs research and medical care functions, the collaborative network with KU Leuven and UOXF enforced UTARTU’s teaching and training capacity through joint workshops and summer-schools. These training events brought a broad audience of trainees together with KU Leuven experts in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, non-invasive prenatal diagnosis and single-cell genomics research and together with UOXF experts in the field of metabolic health, reproductive ageing, endometrial receptivity, implantation and endometriosis.
"During the I period:
The kick-off meeting of the project was held in Leuven on February 3rd 2016. The scientific (annual) meeting of the project was held in Leuven on April 27nd 2016. The joint workshop of 2016, „Targeted & Genome Wide Haplotyping“, was organized by KU Leuven in Leuven on April 28-29. The second joint workshop “Personalized Medicine in Practice: Advances in Reproductive Science” was organized by UOXF in Oxford on March 7-8, 2017.
During the II period:
Summer school held on single-cell genomics, ""Single-cell and low-input methodologies in reproductive biology"", June 13th -14th 2017 in UTARTU. This was an activity organized jointly with another H2020-TWINN-2015 programme grant No 692299.
Workshop held on big data analysis, ""Challenges and opportunities in big data analysis"", May 16th -17th 2018, in UTARTU. This was an activity organized jointly with another H2020-TWINN-2015 programme grant No 692145.
Final conference recapitulating partner’s activities within WIDENLIFE, “Women’s and Fetal Health and Wellbeing”, Sept 19 – 20 2018 in UTARTU.
The scheme of staff exchanges has been launched and several members of the staff of UTARTU have visited KU Leuven and UOXF: the numbers for the first period respectively 2 senior researchers; 1 PhD student to KU Leuven, 1 PhD student to UOXF, 2 post-docs to UOXF. Some researchers from Leuven and Oxford have also visited Tartu: the numbers respectively 1 senior researcher from KU Leuven and 1 senior researcher from UOXF.
For the second period: The total number of PhD students and postdocs related to WIDENLIFE activities was 12. Five of them have visited UOXF and two of them have visited KU Leuven within the reporting period.
Moreover, in association with WIDENLIFE actions, two PhD defenses took place in UTARTU and 10 more are expected.
The Project Management Board (PMB) has had three meetings. In order to promote communication between the scientific community and the general public and to increase awareness and popularity of science, various outreach activities took place. During the first period: members of the consortium attended International DNA Day and Researcher’s Night and organised seminars about female fertility, infertility and IVF, where the WIDENLIFE project was also promoted.
In addition, members of consortium have published opinions and articles in local media. The Estonian Society of Human Genetics annual meeting, Annual joint meeting of Estonian Gynecologists Society and Estonian Endocrine Society and several others in Leuven (Science Day, training days) and Oxford (Open door patient support group meetings, OSPREA Open Day) took place.
During the second period: open door days combined with presentations, lab/clinic tours and short hands-on workshops. This included public lectures; Estonian Researchers’ Night; Open door days at KU Leuven.
Scientific conferences, joint meetings at local level (Estonia, Belgium, UK). This includes e.g. UTARTU’s Medical Faculty Annual Scientific Conference; UTARTU’s Annual Scientific Conference of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology and Institute of Genomics; Belgian Society of Human Genetics Conference; Symposium of clinical ethics in neonates and children; Endometriosis UK patient information day; Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Scientific conferences on international level attended by consortium members included European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) annual conferences; European Cytogenetics conferences; American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) annual conferences; European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual conferences and courses; International Society of Prenatal Diagnosis (ISPD) conferences and several others.
The scientific publications (38 at present) published are on the webpage of the project: https://sisu.ut.ee/widenlife/publication;
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Expected impacts:
1. The University of Tartu will become a leading teaching and research centre in Northen/Eastern Europe in the field of women’s health-care, including both reproductive and fetal medicine;
2. Intensified synergies facilitated by WIDENLIFE will enhance collaborative research projects for the discovery of novel scientific discoveries to tackle population ageing;
3. The gaps both in UTARTU’s (practical) skills and in networking with partners will narrow;
4. Systematic collaborative knowledge transfer activities will intensify;
5. The ultimate objective, to increase the scientific excellence of the involved counterparts, will be met.

Development and application of contemporary methods through collaboration between project partners will increase the ability of Estonian medicine to compete with neighbors. It’s is important to Estonian science to achieve and keep on the expected European level, integral part of which is education of new scientists and application of scientific achievements to everyday’s life.
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