Teaching the teachers

30 November 2017
Stem Cells Australia and Gene Technology Access Centre (GTAC) hosted a Teacher professional learning day to support them in teaching reproductive technologies and the surrounding ethical and legal considerations to their VCE students. 

46 teachers from across Victoria participated in the day and heard from health and medical experts who presented infertility statistics, causes and treatments to explore the question ‘Why are some couples infertile?’ Teachers also applied study tools designed and developed by GTAC and Stem Cells Australia staff to scrutinize this question and explore ‘How can reproductive technologies assist with these problems?’ in addition to considering the legal and ethical considerations surrounding stem cells and reproductive technologies.

Teachers began the day by participating in two one hour sperm and eggs laboratories, to learn about possible classroom activities including capturing images of the live cells. The sperm workshop was led by Dr Alex Harvey, a Research Fellow in the School of Biosciences from The University of Melbourne. Dr Harvey also demonstrated a method for separation of motile sperm from non-motile and dead sperm in a semen sample. Separation is necessary for increasing the success of assisted reproductive technologies, particularly when choosing single sperm cells for intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

The second lab focussed on identifying features of oocytes, or eggs, including developmental features during mitosis. Associate Professor David Edgar, Melbourne IVF and University of Melbourne, commenced the workshop with a short talk on development of eggs from the primordial stages up to fertilisation. He also spoke about the techniques used for cryopreservation of ovarian tissue, an emerging approach for fertility preservation for cancer patients. 

The success of the workshops relied on resources and information provided by collaborators and colleagues at Stem Cells Australia, University of Melbourne and biological materials suppliers.

Throughout the day, teachers heard from four practising experts: 

Dr Vanessa Hughes – Women’s Health Melbourne and Melbourne IVF
Dr Hughes has a background in Medical Science and has always had a keen interest in the fields of embryology, fertility and IVF. She is completing a Masters of Reproductive Medicine at the University of NSW and she has also commenced subspecialty training to obtain Certification in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (CREI). Dr Hughes has a passion for Oncofertility and is regularly caring for cancer patients undergoing fertility preservation treatments prior to chemotherapy. Her current research is focused on optimising ovarian cryopreservation for girls and young women with Leukaemia. Dr Hughes presented on the topic of ‘Reproductive health, causes of infertility and possible treatments ’. 

Professor David Gardiner – The University of Melbourne and Melbourne IVF
Professor Gardiner’s research has focused on improving techniques associated with reproductive biology and assisted human conception. Much of his research has been successfully translated into clinical procedures, with the majority of human IVF clinics around the world utilising some of the techniques he developed. Professor Gardiner presented on the topic of ‘Current state of the art science and technology underpinning reproductive medicine’.

Rita Leitoguinho – Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI)
Rita is a PhD student who shared the details of her research including the challenges and successes she faced within her lab. She presented on the topic ‘Using technologies to coax stem cells into becoming germ cells’.

Associate Professor Megan Munsie – Stem Cells Australia
Megan is the head of Education, Ethics, Law & Community Awareness Unit for Stem Cells Australia. The Unit engages with healthcare professionals, patients, teachers, students and interested community groups to facilitate well informed and robust public debates on policy, health and ethical issues associated with the use of stem cells in the clinic and laboratory. Megan is also the Policy and Outreach Manager for the Stem Cells Australia. Megan presented on the ethical considerations surrounding the use of generating germ cells using stem cell technologies.
The day was incredibly successful and was described as informative, eye opening and engaging. Teachers felt more equipped to teaching with real world data and results, as well feeling more comfortable using real world scenarios to teach ethics to their students.  

Professor David Gardner is a Chief Investigator with Stem Cells Australia; Associate Professor Megan Munsie is an Associate Investigator. 

GTAC would also like to thank the following people who were so generous with their time and knowledge: A/ Prof Megan Munsie, Dr Vanessa Hughes, Professor David Gardiner, Rita Leitoguinho, Dr Gary Clarke and Dr Alex Harvey.