Celebrating our science research partnerships

Over the last six years, Canterbury Christ Church University and Genea Biomedx have been working collaboratively on research and knowledge exchange projects that aim to transform IVF industry practice.

Genea Biomedx, part of Genea, is a pioneering provider of fertility treatment and developer of innovative medical devices, founded in Australia over 35 years ago and is now the employer of over 400 staff worldwide. 

Reader in Reproductive Science, Dr Katie Harvey and Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Simon Harvey, both teach in the Section of Natural and Applied Sciences in the School of Psychology and Life Sciences, and they established a research relationship with Genea Biomedx in 2016.

Their partnership work focuses on the reduction and potential replacement of the use of non-human animal-derived embryos in testing IVF media quality. The culture media is a critical part of IVF as it is used to support cell growth and mimics the natural environment of a developing embryo.

Pig embryos
Pig embryos

Genea has also supported the work of postgraduate students through funding PhD alumna Dr Naki Adjirackor who recently completed her studies and by the provision of industry expertise and consumable materials for experiments.

Katie, also the Course Director for the Biomedical Science and Human Biology undergraduate courses at Canterbury Christ Church University, said: “I am very pleased to be working with Genea Biomedx. We are doing research that has the potential to make a real difference, and that answers key questions that the industry is interested in. It is a great opportunity.

“I hope that collaborations like this will continue to be fostered and existing ones will grow. They are valuable to the University, to the postgraduate and undergraduate students working on the projects, and to the industries themselves. Working with companies is also a great way to get real-world examples and case studies integrated into our undergraduate teaching.”

PhD student Kate Bohacz is continuing the work with Genea. Kate said: “If an easy-to-use test kit could be developed that used human pluripotent stem cells as an alternative to the mouse embryos that are usually used, then not only would this be a cost-effective way to manage quality control procedures, but it would, critically, reduce the use of animals in such processes.”

Genea Biomedx commended the ongoing partnership with Canterbury Christ Church.

“Working together has presented significant benefits to our business. We have been fortunate to collaborate on some key projects and in this case, Genea funded a PhD programme, which has resulted in valuable data that we are likely to use in the future to further our own product development, possibly leading to commercialisation of a novel assay.

“We have been involved in various projects, working collaboratively with the University, by providing our equipment on loan or in-kind. We see such contributions as an important way of engaging and supporting the academic community, at the same time as using the research outcomes in our own development.

“I’d encourage other companies to consider such opportunities to collaborate with Christ Church and academia in general.” Tom Beckitt Global Product Manager & Principal Scientist at Genea Biomedx.

Some of this research has been performed at Canterbury Christ Church’s Life Sciences Industry Liaison Lab, based at Discovery Park, where the University is also working with pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to make real-world differences. Teams here have also been working on solutions for early detection of lung cancer, therapeutic potential of venoms and antibiotic resistance to name but a few.

One example of this is Dr Carol Trim’s work with Venomtech. This collaborative research is looking at both the therapeutic potential of venoms and antibiotic resistance.

Dr Carol Trim is also Course Director for the Animal Science, Biology, Biomolecular Science, Ecology and Plant Science Courses. She supervises several master’s students that all work with venom in a range of areas such as cancer research, antimicrobials, and venom characterisation.

She was also the supervisor of BAFTA-winning English naturalist, explorer, writer, and television presenter Steve Backshall who graduated from Christ Church with an MSc by Research in Biosciences in 2020.

Simon, Lucy, Naki, Anjali and Katie from the School of Psychology and Life Sciences
Simon Harvey (far left) and Katie Harvey (far right) with three of members of their lab, past and present: Lucy Vining, Naki Adjirackor and Anjali Mandawala (left to right)

Dr Cornelia Wilson, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Life Sciences and the Academic Laboratory Manager of the Liaison Lab, is working on research focused on the potential use of microscopic nanoparticles called exosomes to help in the early detection of lung cancer.

Katie and Simon also work with Topigs Norsvin, the leading swine genetics company; they too are funding a PhD student, Lucy Vining who is currently nearing the end of her studies. Working with both Topigs Norsvin and Genea Biomedx has facilitated research that involved both companies. This work aims to develop commercially viable ways of freezing pig embryos, a process not currently standard practice in pig breeding, but one that is routine in cattle and in human IVF.

Being able to freeze pig embryos using Gavi – a unique cryopreservation device designed by Genea Biomedx is a unique opportunity. Shipping frozen embryos around would be more preferable than transporting the animals themselves.

Professor Simon Harvey said: “Collaboration is central to progress in the life sciences. That means both between universities and businesses, but collaboration between businesses is vital; it’s vital that universities do their part in fostering and supporting such interactions.”

Gavi is Genea's device which freezes embryos
Gavi is Genea’s device which freezes embryos

Christ Church has also recently partnered with Comax Life Sciences, who are funding a Masters student to investigate new ways to combat the transmission of diseases. This work is being undertaken by Dr Cornelia Wilson and Dr Lee Byrne.

To find out more about opportunities for collaboration with the University, contact Dr Cornelia Wilson, the Academic Laboratory Manager of the liaison lab.

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