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Scientific Excellence in Animal Reproductive Medicine and Embryo Technology

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SEARMET (Scientific Excellence in Animal Reproductive Medicine and Embryo Technology)

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

The aim of the Scientific Excellence in Animal Reproductive Medicine and Embryo Technology (SEARMET) is to improve the scientific knowledge and innovation capacity of the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMÜ ) in the fields of animal reproductive medicine and embryo technology. This is being done by strengthening collaboration with two high-ranking academic institutions: Sheffield University (USFD), a leader in the field of reproductive physiology and embryo maternal interaction and Copenhagen University (UCPH), which is a model of excellence in the in vitro production (IVP) of bovine embryos and in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) research. To achieve scientific excellence in animal reproductive medicine, EMU is working to make stronger linkages with human reproductive research. EMÜ is also seeking to increase research excellence by improving staff expertise, expanding its network of potential scientific partners and building the capacity of the organization so that it can become a leader in the field. By doing so, EMÜ will achieve a greater impact in the scientific community and in society by reaching out to key stakeholders such as industrial actors to exploit research results.

SEARMET objectives include:
• To advance EMÜ’s excellence in Animal Periconception Health and Physiology by:
- Transferring knowledge from USFD to EMÜ on implantation models, maternal communication with gametes and embryos, and innate immune modulation
- Creating a plan to guide periconception research in the intermediate future

• To advance EMÜ’s excellence in Animal Reproduction by:
- Increasing EMÜ’s expertise and capacity for bovine IVF Embryo Production
- Transferring knowledge from UCPH to EMÜ on the state-of-the-art methods used to analyze and foster early development of animal embryos.

• To Increase EMU’s scientific and organizational capacity by:
- Establishing long-term strategic partnerships between the partners that extends beyond the life of this project
- Creating a strategy to efficiently upgrade EMÜs animal facilities and laboratory infrastructure to meet internationally competitive standards.
- Improving the quality of EMUs Veterinary Medicine Curricula

• To increase EMÜ’s international research profile by:
- More effectively disseminating research results at relevant academic conferences
- Expanding the range and impact of academic journals in which EMÜ research is published
- Improving EMÜ’s ability to participate in (and lead) international research projects
- Attracting high quality international researchers and students

• To strengthen EMÜ’s linkages with industry and society to exploit research results by:
- Creating an effective exploitation strategy for developing biopharmaceutical medical products/services
- Creating an effective exploitation strategy for the production of bovine embryos for the animal breeder market
- Raising public awareness of animal reproductive technology, including transgenic and embryo technologies
• Knowledge was transferred from USFD to EMÜ in areas of periconception via workshops led by USFD experts and one-on-one guidance. A research plan to guide future efforts was also created and technical assistance offered by USFD to EMÜ to ensure the plan is implemented appropriately.
• EMÜ sought to improve its veterinary medicine curricula with periconception knowledge, receiving guidance from USFD experts
• EMÜ ’s library staff are implementing a common Data Management system at EMÜ , for all research, not just what is done as part of SEARMET
• UCPH improved EMÜ’s Bovine IVF Embryo Production via on-site training, ongoing consultation and guidance in developing new experimental protocols
• EMÜ researchers attended training on Linking Animal and Human models of disease to enable knowledge transfer in early embryonic analysis,
• EMÜ has obtained feedback from partners on how best to improve its Scientific infrastructure
• SEARMET researchers participated in various International Scientific conferences to disseminate info about the project and raise the profile of EMÜ
• EMÜ developed a strategy for increasing the quantity, quality and impact of the scientific writing of EMÜ researchers, in consultation with USFD and UCPH
• EMÜ made connections to international funders, researchers and students by attending international conferences, co-organizing the first of what will be 3 international winter/summer schools, laid the ground work for student mobility between SEARMET partners and submitted multiple research proposals
• EMÜ worked on developing an exploitation strategy for animal breeding, dairy and beef industry by reaching out to potential commercial partners, obtaining technology transfer training from UCPH and developing a scenario analysis that lays out different options available
• EMÜ met all ethical requirements, ensuring they use animals more ethically in their research

As a result of all of this activity, the SEARMET project has achieved the following during the first reporting period:
• 27 trainings and workshops
• 11 new contacts with commercial actors for EMU
• 172 young people educated
• 26 researchers involved in training and technical assistance efforts
• 1 Periconception Research Plan completed
• 1 set of Protocols on bovine IVF embryo production completed
• 1 Recommendation on Curricula changes for the PhD program Veterinary Medicine and Food Science
Advances in veterinary reproduction research can benefit society in many ways:
• Improving food production via livestock by increasing the efficiency of animal reproduction
• Improve economic competitiveness of animal producers by helping them develop breeding schemes to improve animal health
• Decreasing the overall ecological footprint of livestock by breeding animals that require less grazing land or feed or are able to retain more nitrogen inputs and/or produce less greenhouse gas emissions
• Lead to the development of new medical treatments that can improve human reproduction

Training and technical assistance from partners is helping to increase EMÜ’s scientific expertise in key areas beneficial to society, including:
• Animal reproductive medicine
• In vitro models for embryo implantation
• Maternal communication with gametes and embryo
• Innate immune modulation during reproduction with impact on infertility treatments in clinical settings
• Improved technologies for the production of bovine IVF embryos

Training and technical assistance from partners is helping to increase EMÜ’s ability to effectively disseminate research results to the scientific community
• Workshops on conference presentation, article writing and project management for EMÜ students and researchers
• International conferences attended by EMÜ and partners staff
• Preparatory efforts to submit bids for hosting an international scientific conference
• Participation in key academic societies by EMÜ staff
• A Publication Strategy has been developed

Several activities have been conducted to increase EMÜ’s impact in wider society, including:
• 1 summer school to be co-hosted by EMÜ was organized during the first period
• Plans for a subsequent winter school and summer school were also planned
• A scenario analysis was in development for commercialization and a technology transfer plan
• Dissemination to various audiences (youth, policy makers)
• Links with animal breeders and bio tech firms was pursued
Agricultural Fair 2017 in Tartu
Presentation by a PhD student from Sheffield in Tartu January 2017
Ovum-pick up with Masterrind in February 2017
Training in Sheffield for PhD students in July 2016
Steering Committee Meeting in Tartu in October 2016
Ovum pick-up in Estonia in October 2016
SEARMET lecture in Sheffield in July 2016