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Anniversary 2017: History of the CTR by Graham Burton

A decade at the frontiers of placental research
Celebrating 10 years of the Centre for Trophoblast Research

Cambridge has a long history of excellence in reproductive biology, and the Centre honours that legacy. The CTR was born out of the need, now widely accepted in the University, that an interdisciplinary approach was the best way to tackle some of the great challenges in reproductive biology.
The Centre traces its history back to a group of Fellows in King’s College, who realised that although they had a shared interest in trophoblast, they knew regrettably little about each other’s research. Consequently, an interdisciplinary meeting was organised in 2004 where they, and other invited experts, discussed topics that ranged from trophoblast stem cells, through placental development, maternal-fetal immunology to clinical outcomes and complications of pregnancy. Such was the success of the symposium that a second meeting, a ‘Trophoblast Day’, was held in King’s College in the autumn of 2006 and, from this, the idea of a research centre capitalising on that expertise was sown. A generous benefaction was offered by an alumnus, and in 2007 the CTR was born.
Over the past ten years the CTR has established itself as a global centre of excellence for placental research, and has become one of the largest groups of internationally recognised placental biologists in the world. In that time we have witnessed some significant milestones in terms of activities and scientific breakthroughs, these include:
- first direct evidence that maternal-fetal immunological interactions at the placental interface are associated with pregnancy outcome
- first demonstration that an endocrine signal from the fetus alters maternal metabolism and resource allocation during pregnancy
- first derivation of genetically stable long-term endometrial and trophoblast
organoid cultures
- first demonstration of the evolutionary conservation of gene expression in the human yolk sac indicating its potential involvement in maternal-fetal transport in early pregnancy
This 10th anniversary meeting is a good moment to reflect on the importance of our work, and it also provides an excellent forum to review the breadth of research being undertaken within the University, and by colleagues in other institutions.
I would also like to express once again, my sincere thanks for the continued support of our benefactor over these past ten years, without whose commitment the CTR and its work would not be possible.

Graham Burton
Mary Marshall and Arthur Walton Professor of the Physiology of Reproduction, Director of Centre for Trophoblast Research